Why would seasoned police officer Jane Bunker leave a successful career in Florida and return to her Maine birthplace to take a humbler, ill-paid position as marine insurance investigator? Apparently, her tendency to terse speech is part of her Maine birthright, though she was taken south when only four. “Just tired of drug runners with fast boats and Haitians on inner tubes” is as confiding as she cares to be when asked the question in Green Haven - a village of fisherfolk who, she soon discovers, “may have been at a loss when confronted with a dead body, but were certainly handy with dead fish.”
Greenlaw, a seasoned commercial fishing boat captain who made her literary reputation with three previous nonfiction books about the sea, also opens the novel with what a Mainer might consider an admirable lack of time-wasting verbosity. That opener is, “Why did you move the body?” Readers who are used to being eased into mysteries (a little scene setting, a sliver of backstory, a whiff of foreshadowing) may even feel they've been too soon netted by the author and thrown into the hold (aka plot).
Speedily (not surprising) it's clear that there's more behind the puzzle of the tide-tossed corpse than long-held resentments at his having made enemies as town drunk and reprobate. Though no longer in law enforcement, Bunker cannot quell her sleuthing instinct. Could the dead man have been the first victim of Green Haven's ongoing, dangerously polarizing controversy over what usage - fishing or wind-generated power - is to be made of an important open water area? Fishing
was banned there five years previously to allow undisturbed re-breeding of the cod that had been, as a town resident explains, “Green Haven's bread and butter for decades.”
A decision looms: re-opening the area to fishing or opting for “renewable, environmentally friendly power” which will shatter “time-honored family tradition.” Such crucial stakes appear to be a powerful prompt for violence and lawbreaking: an arson fire destroys the fish-processing plant that has been Green Haven's key employer, there are insurance fraud plots afoot, and Bunker herself is seriously menaced more than once.
Her closest brush with death occurs aboard a fishing boat near-to-foundering in a fierce storm. A lengthy section details how the boat is held together by three sea-savvy characters. They pull off mechanical feats of near-miraculous ingenuity - much of it virtually incomprehensible to this landlubber. However, the element of suspense manages to buoy the detail-heavy episode - as does Greenlaw's vivid depiction of characters pushing themselves cruelly to perform maximum feats of physical strength, mental agility, mechanical wizardry, and sea knowledge. The episode reads as a sort of celebration of odds-against-survival determination in defiance of lurking doom.
That Greenlaw is new to fiction writing shows. Some characters needs fleshing-out, and one needs pruning-back (a tattooed teenage coffee shop waitress/seer/town-crier who speaks pages of implausibly knowledgeable and articulate dialogue). Also, if the Jane Bunker character is to become centerpiece of a mystery series, she will need considerable honing.
The author's nonfiction includes The Hungry Ocean, All Fishermen Are Liars, and
The Lobster Chronicles. Her real-life persona as swordboat captain was featured in Sebastian Junger's book
The Perfect Storm.