Review - THE BECKONING ICE, Joan Druett
Having never heard of the Wiki Coffin series before, THE BECKONING ICE was an opportunity to read some historical crime fiction from New Zealand that doesn't come along all that often. Part Maori, part American, Wiki is on board the United States Exploring Expedition when a very odd murder is reported.
Reading this book it becomes very obvious that this is an area of history and naval events that the author knows a lot about. The book starts out in a very strong way with the sighting of a possible murder victim, and events that transpire once it is reported to the Expeditionary fleet. After such a strong commencement, the story does get a little less focused, with Wiki transferred between ships in the Fleet, and eventually, another suspect death and that investigation.
Along the way there is much racism encountered, an arrangement undertaken with another Maori crew member, and encounters with a group of sealers bent on discovery of a secret they believe Wiki's investigation has unearthed.
Reader's of historical crime fiction will be used to being launched into times or places that are nothing like our present. THE BECKONING ICE, and the whole of this series it seems, takes that even further in employing such an unusual setting, time, point in history and central character. It is a lot to take in first time out, and as a result you might find yourself involved in some fairly heavy lifting getting everything lined up and understood. There are also some points where, it seems by design, plot and advancement are subsumed by character and sense of place / time. Which will make this a perfect read for some, and not for others.
Having come to the series fresh at book 5, the detail did slightly overwhelm and the various character back-stories, and interplay and politics get very complicated. It seemed to be suggesting that it could be a series that's better to start at the beginning.
Having said that, it's certainly a most unusual scenario, and definitely should be on the radar of fans of historical crime fiction.
The fifth in the Wiki Coffin series finds the U.S. Exploring Expedition off Cape Horn, a grim outpost made still more threatening by the report of a corpse on a drifting iceberg, closely followed by a gruesome death on board. Was it suicide, or a particularly brutal murder? Wiki investigates, only to find himself fighting desperately for his own life.