I read Mills’ ‘The Savage Garden’ last year and thoroughly enjoyed it (a garden *and* a mystery – what’s not to like *g*) so when I saw another title by the same author I grabbed it. Oddly, it isn’t a follow-up; ‘The Whaleboat House’ is actually his first novel, republished under a different title. I can only assume that it didn’t do terribly well first time round, but they re-released it when ‘Savage Garden’ proved more successful.
I hope it fares better second time around because it’s a fantastic book. Set on Long Island, it involves the death of a beautiful young socialite, and the search for truth by the fisherman who finds her body. There are twists and turns galore, but this is no ordinary murder mystery. Every last detail of the Long Islanders’ intensely rural way of life is lovingly recreated, as is the tension between the early settlers and the new influx of wealthy incomers which provides an atmospheric backdrop to the events of the story. I’ve never visited Long Island so I don’t know how authentic Mills’ descriptions and characterisations are, but he’s clearly done his homework (in spades) and the result comes across as entirely genuine and very gripping.
The mystery is almost the least important part of the book, but it works very well and keeps the reader guessing pretty much up to the last page. I hesitate to mention red herrings in a book about fishermen *g* but there are plenty, as well as a couple of neat twists, one of which I saw coming and the other I didn’t.
My only real complaint is about the use of American spellings and terminology throughout, and I admit this is rather a gray area. The book is after all set in America with American characters, and to have them using British English would be wrong. On the other hand, it’s written by a British author and has been published in Britain for a British audience – and in that case, the use of American spellings does look a little odd.
This was never enough to distract me from turning the pages with rapidly increasing speed. Once I’d finished the book I felt bereft and even now, several weeks later, I still miss it and want to crawl back into the fascinating world Mills has created inside his pages. I’m hoping there’ll be a third novel very soon.