Sep 14, 14
Read in February, 2008
Joan Druett's A Watery Grave, the first of her historical mysteries starring Wiki Coffin, was an odd read for me. We have here what you might get if you took Patrick O'Brian, made Stephen Maturin the hero and also made him half-Maori, and threw the whole shebang over into the Mystery genre. There is much promise in this for O'Brian fans. This book, however, didn't quite deliver on that promise.
The main issue I had with it was that all throughout the book, we get a whole lot of "look at all these things that Wiki is good at!" He's way better educated than all the other members of the cast! He swims like a fish! He speaks a lot of languages! He rides and shoots excellently! He's smart enough and observant enough that local sheriffs will do a complete one-eighty from arresting him on suspicion of murder to deputizing him to find the real killer! He is an able enough seaman that even captains of ships he deliberately jumped off of just because he didn't like what they were doing want him back in their crew! And this last is part and parcel of a related issue, to wit, when it comes to reactions to Wiki, any cast member with more than one or two speaking lines has one of two possibilities: 1) they think he's absolutely awesome, or 2) they are prejudiced because of his parentage and history. Even the one character who spends the most time giving him grief winds up helping him in the end. At no point throughout this story did I see any sign of interesting character flaws to round out how much of a paragon Wiki is supposed to be; as a result, he came across to me quite flatly.
I can't fault Druett for her prose, or for the most part, her pacing. Once the book got the action out to sea, things picked up considerably, with some good character dynamics as well as general action. But my failure to click with Wiki as a lead character took away a lot of the story's impact for me. I think that if she'd taken the time to show us Wiki growing up rather than starting out of the gate with him as an adult, if she'd shown us the development of the friendship between him and George Rochester, I'd have sympathized with him a lot more.
As it stands, I spent most of the book thinking that surely I can't have been the first geek chick to read this book and wonder whether everybody in the cast can freely edit the hero, and if so, how many revisions he has to have before his content is locked down. Two and a half stars.