R. J. McMillen’s Gray Sea Running

Book review by Antonio Ramblés

Gray Sea cover artIn Gray Sea Running, the fourth book in the Dan Connor mystery series, Lakeside author R. J. McMillen has crafted a tale that teases the reader and torments her protagonist with clues so seemingly unrelated that both are frequently left wondering if they are actually pieces to the same puzzle, even as their obsession with assembling the complete picture rows.

The plot is underpinned by the threat of large scale commercial fish farming to the ecology of waterways, islands, and inlets along British Columbia’s Pacific Coast, and to the culture and lifestyle of Natives who have lived in harmonic balance with it for untold centuries.

When a young environmental activist goes missing, it seems more likely that he is lost in the back country than that he is the victim of foul play.  That is, until a man employed at one of the fish farms dies in a suspicious accident and two other workers, both Natives, also go missing.  The comings and goings of seemingly out of place visitors, a luxury yacht, and an abandoned dog only complicate possible scenarios.

At first, only Connor suspects that the cases are somehow related, but the witnesses he needs to breathe life into his web of circumstantial evidence are maddeningly beyond his reach.  His frustration over a string of dead ends calls into question his recovery from the trauma of his wife’s murder and his abiding guilt that he was unable to prevent it.

It’s been a year since Connor last partnered with the crippled Native American known simply as Walker, but with two Native workers missing it’s only a matter of time before they’re again thrust into impromptu partnership.  When one of the missing Natives is found murdered, concern grows that the others’ lives are also at risk and Connor begins cutting procedural corners to bring the investigation to a head.

Any series which shares setting and principal characters continually treads the line between fulfilling expectations set by earlier books and the chasm of trite repetition.   Dan Connor’s ongoing quest to exorcise his personal demons compellingly binds these books together, and each leaves the reader craving not only the resolution of the crime-du-jour, but Connor’s emotional rehabilitation.  In Gray Sea Running, McMillen finally delivers on both.

The Dan Connor books are more than simple mysteries.  They are odes to the natural beauty and symbiosis of a world unspoiled by modern civilization, and to a Native race that has always respected it and understood its place in it.  The relationship between Connor and Walker is an ongoing a dialogue in which each, if only for a few moments, lifts the veil of the others’ existence, at times recoiling from what’s beneath and at others indulging in wry commentary on it.  It hard to imagine two characters more ably suited to conduct such a dialogue, or to guide readers into it more invitingly.

Published by Touchwood Editions.  Available here on Amazon 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s