Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Black Coral by Andrew Mayne


First Line: Everyone is looking at me funny.
When police diver Sloan McPherson arrives at the scene of an accident in which a driver crashed through a guardrail and into a Florida canal, little does she realize she's embarking on a possibly life-changing moment. Not only is the canal home to alligators, but it's also known to be one of the haunts of Big Bill, the biggest, the meanest alligator of them all.
As she swims through the murky canal, hoping that Big Bill is occupied elsewhere, she finds a second car submerged in the water. Inside are the bodies of four teenagers who disappeared thirty years ago after attending a rock concert. At first, the teens' deaths are thought to be a horrible accident, but the evidence points to murder. The more Sloan uncovers, she realizes that there's been a serial killer working this area for quite some time, and the discovery of a recent murder shows that the killer may be back in business. 

Will Sloan unmask him and bring him to justice, or will he be able to silence her?


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.

Black Coral by Andrew Mayne
Narrated by Susannah Jones
 Brilliance Audio © 2021
Audiobook. 9 hours, 13 minutes

Thriller, #2 Underwater Investigation Unit
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


  1. This sounds like a good blend of character development, solid plot, and thriller pacing, Cathy, and that's hard to come by. You make such an interesting point, too, about having a double standard. I think we all have our biases and preconceptions; I know I do. And it says a lot about a book (and the reader!) when a book invites people to confront those preconceptions.

    1. I think my double standard arises from the fact that I was raised by a single mother and that there was no father to fall back on. If Mom had been TSTL, my life could easily have been much different.

  2. I wonder if the author noted that reviews mentioned TSTL and changed course? I read The Naturalist several years ago--it started strong, then felt like the transformation of the main character, from nerdy, but intriguing to comic book action hero was too much to believe. I may give this series a try, but starting with the second book. :)

    1. If Mayne did, it was frrom reviews on other books he's written because usually when one book is released, the next one in the series has already been written and turned in to the publisher.

  3. I find Jen's "wonder" interesting...and maybe a little encouraging. I, too, have a hard time taking novels with TSTL main characters that anchor the whole series, and I've quit on more than one for precisely that reason. Maybe someone out there is really listening to the feedback.

    1. I've dumped more than one book due to TSTL characters.

  4. Well, Alexandra Cupidi had a few TSTL moments in the last book I read in William Shaw's excellent series.
    I may give Andrew Mayne a go. I'd like to read Black Coral, but anything under the sea is kind of scary. And on top of that, there are alligators.
    I just watched on the news several times over an alligator at a child's birthday party (What? Who thought of that idea?). And it tried to take the arm off its trainer. She yelled for help, and fortunately, a father ran to her aid and saved her arm and her life.
    She thanked him on the news for saving her arm. She was, however, bandaged up.
    First of all, who thiks of inviting a huge alligator to a child's birthday party? What? A pony or donkey won't do? Weirdness.
    So I don't know if an alligator story is up my alley right now.

    I will try to find one of his other books in the series.

    1. There are two books so far. The first is filled with TSTL moments, and this one... I don' think you'd like the alligator scenes. They creeped me out, and I tend to be "tougher" than you in that regard. Perhaps you should wait for book three next year.


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