A Watery Grave Summary
by Joan Druett

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A Watery Grave

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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A Watery Grave is an electrifying novel of a half Maori, half American sailor-linguist who is deputized to find a murderer at sea. Historian Joan Druett’s understanding of the social as well as the technical elements of nineteenth century society make this a fascinating tale. A woman is murdered just before the departure of a fleet of the United States Exploring Expedition into uncharted areas. Wiki Coffin, who was scheduled to depart with one of the ships as ship’s linguist, finds the body just before the ships’ departure and is suspected of the murder, largely because he is half Maori. When it is clear that he could not possibly be the killer, he is deputized by the local sheriff, who believes the murderer is with the fleet, and sent to sea to catch the criminal.

The relationships among members of the crew and the details of life onboard are enlightening as well as entertaining. Another murder occurs at sea, and Wiki’s investigations are seriously curtailed by the atmosphere of bigotry that pervades the time and place. But the interplay between Maori and American culture and Wiki’s understanding of both allows him to navigate the sea of interpersonal relationships, find the killer, and gain the respect of the prejudiced maritime officers and crews.

Druett vividly, persuasively evokes the maritime world of the mid-nineteenth century. Readers will eagerly await another episode in the life of Wiki Coffin, and the conclusion of this adventure suggests that one is forthcoming.