Set in the late Victorian era in the claustrophobic environment of a sailing ship, this dark tale of passion, blackmail and murder is intensified by the onslaught of a savage storm and the threat of mutiny. The inevitable shipwreck must be investigated by an honest coroner, Frederick Blake, who arrives on the Isle of Wight, seeking the truth although thwarted, apparently, by government intervention. While Blake is ably assisted by Mr Rennie, a canny Scottish journalist, we read of the true events on board the Irex, in parallel to the investigation.
After a false start when the newly built craft set out from Greenock in Scotland, Captain Will Hutton had to return the ship to port, due to the badly laden cargo of iron pipes. Eventually they were able to set sail for Rio de Janeiro with a sound crew and three unusual passengers. A married couple, George and Elizabeth Barstow, were Salvation Army missionaries, while the third passenger, Edward Clarence, a strange, arrogant man. Captain Hutton and many of his crew were captivated by the young Elizabeth Barstow, but as Clarence bribed the crew to do his will, Hutton felt increasing antipathy for him. The weather on their voyage went from bad to worse throughout the Irish Sea, and in the Bay of Biscay they were forced to return to the south of England.
Frederick Blake is expecting a straightforward case of a wreck caused by the Captain’s error since the surviving crewmembers report Will Hutton’s irrational behaviour and obsession with Elizabeth Barstow, but why have two survivors disappeared on the island and who is the mysterious Mr Thornthwaite who has turned up to interfere with the enquiries?
This tortuous tale is effectively described with excellent characterisation and I could not decide whether I wished to read more of the investigation or to return to the stifling atmosphere on board ship. Perhaps slightly long-winded in places, this thrilling story based on a real shipwreck with an exciting twist is well worth reading.
I reviewed this book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.
Carl Rackman is a British former airline pilot turned author. From a naval military background, he has held a lifelong interest in military history and seafaring. His life spent travelling the world has given him a keen interest in other cultures, and he has drawn on his many experiences for his writing.
Carl’s writing style can best be described as the “literary thriller”, with a flair for evocative descriptions of locales and characters. Complex, absorbing storylines combine with rich, believable characters to create immersive worlds for the reader to explore.
Carl is married with two daughters and lives in Surrey, United Kingdom. Irex is his first novel, published under his own company, Rackman Books.