High Seas Murder by Peter Drax

This offering from Dean Street Press, sent to me for review, is essentially a very different Golden Age Detective Story. In the excellent introduction, Curtis Evans reveals that Drax wanted to write a ‘credible’ story, having decided that the existing detective novels did not stand up to close inspection. I believe he did a magnificent job. This book is so detailed, so realistic that it is possible to forget that there is a murder to consider. The characters, far from being the upper class set in country houses so loved by some murder mystery writers, are real people, often tired, scared, and broke. Despite the sub- title, there is no super star detective, just steady police work to sort out the events leading to a suspicious death.

The ‘High Seas’ of the title are experienced by a group of fishermen, all having their reasons for risking their lives to bring back a bumper haul of fish. Larry wants to get married, Dan wants to earn enough to run a chicken farm, Tubby wants to practise his zither, and Carl, the Captain, wants to justify his outlay on a new ship. A near impossible sea not only affects their chances of survival, but also a ship, Ivanhoe, that they discover. The victim of the novel is a real person, with thoughts and determination of his own. Everyone in this novel has a back story, even the seemingly minor characters, who inhabit the rooms, offices and pubs described in vivid detail.

This novel seemed a little challenging to start with as the technical detail of the fishing journey is so carefully written that I thought that it was just a sea themed book. When the chief characters reach land however, their progress and interaction with the locals of Gilboro’ feels so real, it’s difficult to convey how effective the writing is over a well sustained novel. The lawyers are slow to react, but suspicious of everyone, real characters in their actions. The police are not really proactive, but do their duty in an orderly manner. They do not rush around seeking answers, but do everything necessary.

It is always difficult to review a mystery novel without spoilers. This is a highly satisfying novel, full of real insight for those people who scratch a living, and have the normal curiosity about their neighbours and friends. The sea going details are so correct it could be a non-fiction book which reflects Drax’s career, but it is peopled by a cast rich in humanity. It is a tragedy that Drax was killed before writing many more novels, but the few others that he did complete and are newly republished by Dean Street Press look to be worth seeking out and enjoying.

As always, I have enjoyed this Dean Street Press book which I am grateful to have received for review. There are more to come!

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