Twenty-three years ago, Christina Tolmie vanished without a trace, leaving her young daughters Kate and Flora orphaned. Now Flora is missing, too. When a desperate Kate searches Flora's home, she finds a slip of paper with one name on it: Cal McGill. Cal is known as the Sea Detective, an expert on the winds and the tides, and consequently a gifted finder of lost things-- and lost people.
Cal doesn't think he can help, but he has unexpected time on his hands, so he begins a cursory search. What he finds may not only reunite the sisters, but it may also shed light on their mother's disappearance all those years ago.
Cal McGill's full first name is Caladh which is Gaelic for a harbor or haven, and many people have come to him hoping he will end their nightmares and find their missing loved ones. With his exhaustive knowledge of winds and tides and his far-flung network of contacts, he's been very successful, and I hope he continues to be because Mark Douglas-Home's series is one of my very favorites.
As Cal begins his search for Kate's missing sister, he's also faced with the death of his best friend, Alex, and this leads to much introspection. Cal has always been a loner: he "experienced the closest he ever came to elation. He was on a wild coast alone and no one knew where he was." I can identify with this aspect of his nature, but I'm also aware of its downside. "Was he becoming more solitary in his habits, too comfortable in his own company and silence?" Cal has to work this through while he searches for Flora.
The Driftwood Girls is several stories woven skillfully together. There's Cal's soul-searching after the death of his friend. There's the search for Flora Tolmie. There's the rather strange story of three people living on an island off the coast of the Netherlands. And there's the slowly unfolding story of what happened to Kate and Flora's mother twenty-three years ago. The book could actually be considered a study in the different ways people respond to grief and this overlying sadness-- as well as Cal's feeling of being cut off from the world-- may make it a bit difficult for readers to be drawn into the story.
The knowledge that goes into making Cal the sea detective is fascinating but never overwhelms the story, and the author's descriptions of coastal areas of Scotland and the Netherlands can have even the most hardened landlubber smelling the salt air, hearing the cry of gulls, and wanting to set sail. The only thing that I can quibble over is how neatly the story of Kate and Flora's mother was wrapped up. It all seemed a bit too convenient, just a bit contrived, but it certainly didn't keep me from enjoying the book.
The oceans, tides, and winds, the atmospheric descriptions of land and sea, the characters, and the stories all mesh perfectly into mysteries that I love to sink into. If you love stories like this, then you need to become acquainted with Cal McGill. Start with The Sea Detective, and be prepared to get your hands on all the others.
The Driftwood Girls by Mark Douglas-Home
Penguin © 2020
Paperback, 330 pages
Private Investigator, #4 Sea Detective mystery
Source: Purchased from Amazon UK.