Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific accomplishment, and one that I have only managed once. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Charles L.R. Dougherty’s Bluewater Killer, a thriller which I finished reading last week.
Characters: Bluewater Killer features two main male protagonists. Mike Reilly, master of sailing yacht Sea Serpent, cruises the islands of the Caribbean, getting involved with a succession of attractive young women. Unfortunately, Mike is prone to blackouts. On awakening, he generally finds his latest companion missing, amid suspicious circumstances — like having deep knife wounds on his forearms. What happened? Mike doesn’t know.
Phillip Davis, 42-year-old retired soldier, experienced in covert ops, is searching the islands for the missing Danielle Berger, daughter of his billionaire friend and one-time employer Jean-Pierre Berger. He’s got his own small sailing yacht, Kayak Spirit. Colorful, immense islander “Sharktooth” and retired Miami police detective Paul Russo help Phillip in the search, which leads to Mike.
Charles presents decent back story on all his main and supporting characters, but Mike’s upbringing at the hands of an abusive mother is particularly vivid:
By the time he was three, he had learned not to stray from the safety of his backyard, but switching had remained his mother’s preferred method of discipline for his many other transgressions. He could still feel the sensation of the tiny, hair-like fibers that covered the surface of the green cane cutting into the skin of his legs.
Despite his implication in the disappearance of young women, Mike seemed a sympathetic character to me. He struggles with some kind of mental illness that gives him blackouts and hallucinations, and so he is perhaps not entirely responsible for his actions.
On the other hand, Mike has some inkling of his involvement in the disappearances, as he lies to Phillip and others about the little he does know — perhaps fearing to learn the truth.
Plot: When Dani, daughter of an ultra-rich businessman goes missing in the Caribbean where she hires out as sailing yacht crew, retired military man Phillip Davis volunteers to track her down. His search takes him throughout the Caribbean islands, where encounters a host of colorful characters and locales.
Setting: The story takes place ashore and at sea amidst exotic Caribbean islands with evocative names like Mustique, Mayreau, Bequia and Baliceaux. Sometimes I could almost feel the warm breezes and smell the salt air:
As Sea Serpent rocked gently at anchor, Mike gazed out over the lush, green hillside of Dominica, watching sugar cane swaying in the breeze. He was pleasantly fatigued from a day of reef-diving. At a distance, the aggregate motion of the cane mirrored the ebb and flow of ocean swells outside the harbor. Sipping his rum punch while Michelle, or Michie, as she called herself, bustled about the galley making a Creole gumbo for their dinner, he reflected that life didn’t get much better than this.
Alas for Mike and Michie, it does get worse.
What I thought could’ve been done better: I felt the story had some clarity issues. While it’s ok to keep Mike in the dark about what happens during his blackouts, the reader is entitled to get some clue. For instance, the first chapter opens with Mike waking up in a jail cell on the island of Bequia. He’s got a bump on his head. How did he get there? How did he get the bump? Why is the jail deserted, and the cell door open so he can just walk out?
These intriguing questions never get cleared up.
Also, Dani, who seems like a fascinating character from the clues we get throughout the book, is not in evidence until the end. The fact is, as we learn in the book’s final chapters, she goes through quite an ordeal. Suspense could’ve been heightened quite a bit by showing us what poor Dani is going through while Phillip is searching for her.
What I thought was good: Bluewater Killer has a lot to like. Charles does a nice job with his characters, particularly Mike and supporting character Sharktooth. Charles has obviously spent his share of time in the islands and gives us the unique patois of the natives, of whom Sharktooth is one. Love that name, by the way — sounds like a pirate. Here, Phillip and Sharktooth interrogate the evil captain of a drug-running freighter:
“Irie (all right),” Sharktooth said, an evil grin displaying his collection of gold teeth.
“Where’s the engineer?” Phillip asked.
“He have a accident. He fall in the ‘lectricicals, stop the generator. Stop he, too. He try to run away. ‘Lectricicals very dangerous. You need one more engineer, Julio,” Sharktooth said, pulling the gleaming filet knife from his waistband.
“Julio look hot, Phillip. Okay I he’p he take he shirt off? Cool he down some?”
Phillip nodded, and Sharktooth made a graceful, waving motion around the seated man with the hand that held the knife. Julio’s shirt fell away in three pieces as he screamed, in fear or pain. Phillip wasn’t sure which.
“Uh-oh, I cut he, Phillip. Nassabad, though. Jus’ a wee bit. Need to get practice again,” Sharktooth said, running a banana-sized index finger along the thin red line on top of Julio’s shoulder as a few drops of blood oozed out.
Settings aboard the sailing yachts and ashore are all terrific. Charles provides a wonderful if offhand glimpse into the fascinating, alluring culture of sailing among the islands.
Overall: So who writes a perfect book? Bluewater Killer is an excellent seafaring mystery, colorful and character-driven. While not every mysterious detail in the book — and there are plenty — gets cleared up, the author still delivers a fine read. With its island locales and blue water sailing theme, Bluewater Killer makes excellent summer — or any time — reading.
Good job Charles!
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