Saturday, August 31, 2013

Watery Grave by Bruce Alexander (A Sir John Fielding mystery)

This third entry into the Sir John Fielding series was thoroughly satisfying, nicely continuing the character development, plot lines and story arcs Bruce Alexander artfully laid in the first two installments.

Family ties and old friendships are tested, young boys become men on the high seas while fighting pirates, characters are forced to examine their faith in and fidelity to their country and ultimately justice itself is threatened by the inherent fallibility of man and flawed loyalty to the institutions that often become one's identity.

You know, all the stuff that makes you delve into a book like it's piece of warm bread fresh from the oven with a melting pad of butter on it.

However, the book was also a bit light on the law, so fans of Alexander's immensely entertaining way of educating the readers about British law in the late 18th century will find themselves a bit wanting in that regard. The reader unfortunately doesn't get to watch the cases that come before the blind magistrate as much as in the previous books. 

The excuse for that, however, is more than adequate: much of the action centers around a Royal Navy court martial wherein a man is accused of pushing the captain overboard during a gale and Sir John Fielding is merely consulting on the case. 

But of course, it's never that simple, and Alexander has cleverly enfolded a not-entirely-new plot line, or issue, into the Bow Street world he created.

Though the principles remain on land and the HMS Adventure remains docked in the Thames, there is plenty of page-turning nautical action.

It is not the most complex mystery, and most arm chair sleuths will likely have figured out what the courts do not before the ending. Still, Alexander steers clear of cliches, shows his usual talent for historical detail and research the reader doesn't even notice (the best kind, in historical fiction) and gives an ending that is satisfying and not too pat. 

Devotees of the series will enjoy how Jeremy Proctor's journey into manhood is honestly, but respectfully, chronicled. Jimmie Bunkins still uses flash without hitting you over the head with it and Black Jack Bilbo makes another welcome appearance. 

Best of all, however, we learn more about Sir John Fielding the man, including how he lost his sight, and find him less two-dimensional than his role as Jeremy Proctor's employer and magistrate has allowed him to be in the first two novels.

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