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This is the third book I've read written by Andrew Mayne, and it won't be my last. This writer knows how to tell an exciting story that captures my imagination. In the case of this Underwater Investigation Unit series, it's the visuals and information about diving that Mayne provides that help keep me glued to the action.

Sloan McPherson is a strong main character. She comes from a family whose shady past is well-known, and this has given her the idea that she's always got something to prove-- especially to those in law enforcement. She's working on a degree in archaeology, and since she's the only police diver available in an area filled with coastline, canals, and the Everglades, she has plenty to keep her busy. She's passionate about what she does, and she can be impulsive, which means there can be situations when she should keep her mouth shut... but doesn't.

In the first book in the series, The Girl Beneath the Sea, I was exasperated by Sloan's TSTL (Too Stupid to Live) moments when she would take unnecessary risks. This was especially annoying since she's a single mother. I'd contemplated not finishing the book, but Mayne does know how to tell a riveting story. I decided that the jury would be out until I'd given this second book a try. The jury is now in. What happened?

I think this is a situation where Mayne and I both underwent a change. Although there were dangerous moments for Sloan in Black Coral, she didn't blunder into things without a care in the world. She assessed the situation, she understood the risks, and she took as many precautions as possible. The TSTL moments were gone. In addition, I had my own epiphany. I realized that I was applying my own double standard. Why did I think it was more acceptable for a male character who's a father to do extremely dangerous things than it was for a woman who's a mother? Yes, Sloan is a single mother, but her ex-husband is an excellent father who doesn't shirk any of his responsibilities toward their daughter, and it's obvious through scenes with her tween daughter, Jackie, that Sloan is raising an intelligent, responsible, caring person. So... as long as Sloan abandons those TSTL moments, I'm totally supportive of her occupation. See? Reading fiction can make people smarter!

With all this talk about characterization, I don't want you to think that the story lacked meat on its bones. Serial killer books aren't my favorite, but this one was done extremely well because, for most of the book, this was a cold case in which a lot of time had to be spent on teasing out clues and evidence. Readers weren't following along in the footsteps of a crazed killer. I also liked all the jurisdictional infighting Black Coral shows. Sometimes you wonder how all the various law enforcement agencies manage to get anything done.

Black Coral also works very well as an audiobook. I do like Sloan McPherson's "voice", and narrator Susannah Jones brings her to life. She also does a good job with male voices (much better than the male attempting female voices in the audiobook I'm reading now). I was in the mood for an exciting story with a strong lead character, and Andrew Mayne's second Underwater Investigation Unit thriller was just what the doctor ordered. I'm definitely looking forward to book number three. ( )
  cathyskye | Aug 22, 2021 |
Sloan McPherson is called to the investigation of car accident in a deep pond and while she is underwater she spies an algae-encrusted van that appears to have been in the water a long time. Inside are the bodies of four teens who disappeared after a concert 30 years ago and were assumed to have run away. Sloan is a police diver in Florida where her family of smugglers and pirates has been based for generations. She is intuitive about crime, a bit too intuitive really, and she quickly spots clues suggesting a serial killer. The hunt for this killer is the main plot of the book.

Sloan is also involved in a sting operation to capture some clever thieves who are stealing expensive navigation equipment from luxury yachts.

She does all this because she is part of the Underwater Investigation Unit, a newly-formed and somewhat shaky police team that is supposed to handle criminal investigations that are below the Florida waterline. Sloan and her boss, George Solar, were introduced in "The Girl Beneath the Sea". This book adds Scott Hughes to the team. Hughes is a former navy diver with police experience who sees the UIU as a more freewheeling assignment than normal police work.

The UIU is a smart idea in a state where there is so much water inland and around the coast, but the UIU is new and unpopular with some politicians and some of the police hierarchy. The struggle for administrative independence, recognition, and funding is an ongoing theme.

Did I mention the alligators? Florida alligators and other fauna and flora are a big part of the story. There are loads of alligators in the pond with the van, including a legendary monster called "Big Bill" who comes after Sloan. Lots of narrative tension and cool details in the encounter.

I have not read "The Girl Beneath the Sea" but there was no problem starting with this second book. Although I think Andrew Mayne allows Sloan an overabundance of intuitive plot shortcuts, overall the writing is solid and the nature study fascinating without being overwhelming. I look forward to reading more of this series.

I received a review copy of "Black Coral" by Andrew Mayne from Thomas and Mercer through Gumshoe Review where this review originally appeared online in the April issue. ( )
  Dokfintong | May 9, 2021 |
Andrew Mayne’s scuba diving police specialist, Sloan McPherson, is involved in a slow-burn murder thriller. She is one of the few employees of the Underwater Investigative Unit. Her initial dive in the story relays a really good understanding of the creepiness of what is involved in diving the alligator-infested Florida waterways. What a job. And the fact that McPherson loves it, embracing her leap-first/think-never mentality - makes her a crazy woman with something to prove.

The story was interesting with murder, cold cases, twists, and turns and no shortage of the requisite depraved, seedy predators. The focus on the politics and power plays that can go on within police investigations, especially those involving multiple agencies, was probably closer to the truth than anyone wants to believe. The flaw in the book was the protagonist’s personality. McPherson doesn’t come across as being able to command the attention and respect that gets the job done, even when she does get it done. As she is connecting the dots I had the feeling that someone was laying out the pieces for her. There was just something lacking - maybe a degree of sophistication.

Thank you NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for a copy ( )
  kimkimkim | Dec 31, 2020 |
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