I had read a couple of Mark Mills more recent novels and thought that his captivating writing style and storytelling was brilliant. So I decided to try his first novel, The Whaleboat House.
In this novel, Mills brings us back to 1947 Long Island where traditional fishing meets the modern world after the war. Mills brings together characters, who all have intriguing, different backgrounds and secrets. Conrad Labarde is a secretive character whose background unfolds as the story does. He is a traditional sea fisherman with his partner Rollo. Tom Hollis is the stereotypical policeman in the story has an unhappy past and is a bit of a loner. Finally Lillian Wallace is the victim in this murder story and she and her family come from the rich modern world of mansions, fast cars and lunch at golf clubs.
The story gives us an insight into traditional fishing, forgotten ways in whale fishing and 1940 American society, but it is also a really good murder story. Lillian is the victim – fished out of the water by Conrad – and an intriguing story follows of secrets and murder mystery solving. Tom is not Colombo but we like him and he keeps going until he does solve the mystery. Although Conrad is a little aloof, he is a really likable character and helps Tom solve the murder with a lot of hints. Although we don’t realise Conrad has his own reasons for solving Lillian’s murder. Class differences show when we meet Lillian’s family and they are not that likable. Her brother is set for a sparkling career in politics and just what is he hiding and why do the family have a friend who ‘fixes’ things?
While we get involved in the mystery, there is much more happening in this story, such as the love story with Tom. We also learn about the local fishermen fighting to preserve their way of life and making a living against recreational fishing rules and the history of Long Island. We get involved in the history and people of the story to an extent that we care about the characters and understand the problems of when tradition meets modern.
Mills’ writing is so creative and description that we can imagine we are there, smell the sea salt, see the beach and houses and feel the sun when sitting by the mansion swimming pool. His setting the scene on the fishing boat when tragedy happens makes it so touching. Also mid story when the story is taking us on a fishing trip with our main characters is well written that we can feel the boat rocking on waves and feel the tensions and excitement of the characters.
Overall this is a great book. Mills has an unique writing style and is a great story teller. This is a book to read if you like murder mysteries entwined with intrigue, atmosphere and some history.
Have you read this book or Mills’ other novels? Let me know in the comments.