Black Coral (Underwater Investigation Unit #2), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Andrew Mayne, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Andrew Mayne is back with another police procedural that will have the reader thinking outside the box (as well as off land). With his Underwater Investigation Unit, Mayne utilises the world of police work under the water with Sloan McPherson as lead diver. In Black Coral, the discovery of four teens from decades ago opens old wounds about their trip to a concert and the potential trouble they encountered while partying one night. Mayne keeps things crisp and will have readers plunging in for more by the final pages. Recommended to those who like unique takes on crime fighting down in Southern Florida.

Sloan McPherson quite enjoys her work in Southern Florida with the Underwater Investigation Unit (UIU), a group slapped together with the governor’s blessing a while back. She trolls under the surface of the water when the police cannot properly do the work on land. While diving down to help remove victims from a car that flew into the water, McPherson comes across a van that no one knew existed. She helps extricate it and bring it to the surface, but must be wary of the countless alligators that flock to the area, basking in the warmer waters and ready to feast on flesh of any sort.

Once some of the preliminary forensics are complete, the UIU learns that the occupants of the van were four teens who went missing over thirty years before. All were presumed to have run away, though their families had come to terms with their likely deaths. Analysis of the two girls in the van shows that they were dressed with their underwear inside out, leaving some to believe that there may have been some sexual assaults that occurred before the van flew into the water.

While McPherson and her new partner try to work through what they know, they are saddled with a new and more glitzy case. It would seem that someone is targeting some of the larger yachts in the marina and stealing from their when the owners are asleep or otherwise engaged. McPherson calls this a silly ‘rich crime’ and wants to focus her attention on the grittier one that includes the dead kids. However, she will have to learn how to manage both, at least for the time being.

After some sleuthing leads to the discovery of a recent couple going missing, the case takes a significant turn. Further probing leads to the discovering of a large cage full of bones, surely bodies that were left deep in the water after a slew of killings. It’s a serial murder investigation and the UIU is elbowed out of the way. However, Sloan McPherson is not one to let things go too easily. Her independent explorations into what they know opens new and disturbing pathways that might explain a horrible new angle and a specific penchant that the ‘Swamp Killer’ may have. This case will chill anyone to the bone!

While my knowledge of Andrew Mayne’s work rests solely with the debut in the UIU series, I was hooked from the opening pages. I am always on the look out for new and interesting perspectives when it comes to police procedurals, Mayne uses this angle effectively and keeps his readers hooked on the case throughout, offering them one tidbits of action both above and below the waterline.

Sloan McPherson emerges as a strong protagonist again, keeping herself busy with work while also trying to remain a member of her family. The mother of a tween girl, Sloan has come to realise that her daughter is not so little anymore and the lure of boys will soon be a worry that must be addressed. Professionally, she is gritty and wants to be in the driver’s seat at all times. Her fearlessness shows repeatedly, both when chasing down leads and interaction with the reptile population while diving for clues. She’s got lots going for her and I quite enjoy how Mayne has crafted her up to this point.

A cast of strong supporting characters keeps the story moving well and does not distract from the plot. Mayne uses his characters to push the narrative along and allows the reader to choose a few people to follow throughout the story. Delving into the dark world of serial killers and paedophiles, Mayne must craft his characters well as he ensures the reader feels the full impact of what is going on.

As with the series debut, this book moved along well and never lost its momentum. With a great plot and strong narrative, Mayne is able to pull the reader in from the opening pages and never lets up. He develops the plot well, with his strong dialogue and uses shorter chapters to keep the flow throughout. While I know little about diving, Mayne bridged that gap effectively for me and kept things easy to comprehend for the layperson. I am eager to see what is to come, as the third novel in the series was just announced. It’s sure to be just as captivating as this one!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another winner. I will have to check out some of your other series to get a full feel for your work. You have a fan in me, and a curious one at that.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

Black Coral

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Girl Beneath the Sea (Underwater Investigation Unit #1), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

After seeing this recent publication by Andrew Mayne make such a splash across the reviewing platforms, I wanted to have a look for myself. Sloan McPherson has underwater diving in her blood, having grown up with it as her father taught her all there was to know. When she is not contracted out to dive for one of the local police services in Florida, Sloan is scouring the depths on her own. One day while pleasure diving—alone, a major faux pas—Sloan has a body dumped in the water in front of her. Panicked, she resurfaces to see what’s going on, but cannot make out who did the deed. After alerting her colleagues, Sloan realises that she is in deeper trouble than she first thought, as someone has stolen her identification, notifying them where to find her. While Sloan does her best to let the case work itself out, she cannot stand idly by and wait for the answers to surface. Paired with a man who is anything but a family friend, Sloan begins to explore the possibilities that this may not have been a random body dump. Furthermore, it would seem that the likely retribution by a drug cartel might have ties to the locals and feds. Sloan discovers the murky waters that see the Drug Enforcement Agency pairing with the local drug runners and the riches that can be had by turning the other way. Deputised and given a gubernatorial nod towards an underwater investigative service, Sloan learns that there’s a massive payload offshore and she can only hope to blow the whistle, confiscating it before someone makes a pile of money and keeps on killing to keep the secret. With the help of her father, Sloan is going to have to get the answers and make the dive of her life, or fear that she’s the next body to sink to the bottom, food for the fishes. An intriguing novel that pushes the reader to new depths when it comes to police investigating. Recommended to those who love police procedurals that work from unique angles, as well as those who enjoy all things related to the world of diving.

I’ll admit, I knew nothing of Andrew Mayne when I started this book, which might be why I come at it from a different angle than others. While many a review gave some lukewarm sentiments towards this piece, I was quite interested in the angle and delivery by Mayne. Sloan McPherson provides a refreshing look at the protagonist’s role, given a lead in a field that does not usually ‘rise to the top’ of a police procedural. Her love of the water is countered only with that for her young daughter, a product of a relationship that was doomed before it began. Sloan also carries the weight of her family’s reputation with local law enforcement, including an uncle who was charged with drug offences. Sloan battles this and a determination to do all she can, while unable to let those around her grab all the glory while she is exploring the depths of the water. Others complement Sloan’s tenacity throughout this piece, offering her some depth while keeping the story moving along. Mayne does well to introduce the reader to the world of diving and the politics of the Florida Coast with this book, providing a story that moves well and keeps the action going. The terminology seems on point and educates the reader throughout, while this series debut has me wanting a little more to see if an underwater diver within the police force can make for an effective angle of crime fighting. While many have tossed up their hands with this piece, I’m curious and not afraid to say that I seek more from Andrew Mayne in the coming years!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for the great lure to a new series. I’ll keep my eyes peeled to see what else you have to offer with Sloan McPherson, as well as checking out some of your other work!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: