|Posted by Vladimir Mortsgna on August 9, 2020 at 4:30 PM|
I did find Billingsgate Shoal to be propulsive, and once it got going, difficult to put down. From an outset where Doc Adams is simply being curious about why a mysterious boat crew is hiding their actions, he ultimately turns up a conspiracy that involves treasure, assumed identity, boats with secret compartments (and with bodies inside) and multiple previous murders. As mentioned in the first installment, Doc’s (and Rick Boyer’s) unusually high knowledge of boats leads him to some clues. I have to say that some other times, he gets other clues by simply putting himself in danger and then managing to survive it. It is established that the people behind the incidents are vicious and ruthless, and while Boyer sets up nicely why Doc has more boating knowledge than the average bear, his survivor skills seem to come out of nowhere.
The villains come to a terrible end, and as written, they richly deserve it, so this is another novel where the reader is led by the nose to hate a fictional character and root for them to die gruesomely. I didn’t think this tactic represented skillful writing when I was reading Forfeit, and I still don’t. Boyer also sets up the plot so that, at the end, essentially everyone who would have a stake in the treasure has already died or been murdered. So Rick and some friends buy a house that contains the treasure and the reader is asked to root for him to figure out the location of the stash because we have been set up to accept that he deserves to keep it as much as anyone else does. Again, the suspense was effective and it was interesting to try to anticipate where the treasure was hidden and how it could be obtained. But I resented being repeatedly set up for Doc to bend the law. Perhaps Boyer should have considered writing Doc as a lovable thief or a sympathetic law-bender who we could sympathize with as he thwarted the plans of other miscreants who were truly evil. And maybe this is an element in the later books in the series. But in Billingsgate Shoal, Doc is a law-abiding citizen who seems to have a very low bar for bending the law himself.
Along those lines, I don’t think enough was done with the fact that Doc suggested his scuba-diving friend poke his nose into a situation that got him killed. The reader is essentially asked to accept that the ultimate vengeance for his friend’s death takes care of Doc’s moral responsibility. I’ve seen James Bond brood more about an innocent bystander being killed during one of his operations. For Doc to seemingly forget so easily that he was brooding about his role in the diver’s death seems both to miss an opportunity to examine an important ethical question and also again, undermines the characterization. Again, isn’t Doc (at least in this book) supposed to be an amateur detective?
Categories: Edgar Winner Reviews (Spoilers)