Early last year I was introduced to the books of Mark Mills when I read House of the Hanged, his fourth novel, and loved it. I went out and bought his other three books straight away and they have languished on my ‘to be read’ pile ever since, which is to my deep discredit. No matter, as I picked up The Whaleboat House again a couple of weeks ago and raced right through it. Previously published under the title ‘Amagansett’, The Whaleboat House begins with that most juicy of crime novel things – a body. In this case, the body is New York socialite Lillian Wallace, who has come to live at her family’s Long Island home after her engagement ended, and she is pulled from the ocean by WW2 veteran and fisherman Conrad Labarde.
Local PD rules Lillian’s death an accidental drowning but Tom Hollis, a former New York detective with a shady past, has his own suspicions of what happened – and suspects foul play. When he discovers that Conrad Labarde is also looking into Lillian’s case, he realises that there is more than one thing that he’s just not seeing.
I loved this book for some of the same reasons I enjoyed House of the Hanged; there is a flawed (in this case two) hero who is haunted by the memories of a former life but there is also a touch of glamour – we see Lillian Wallace in several flashback sequences and also touch upon her family and their ‘money can buy anything’ lifestyle. There is a sense of melancholy as Mills describes the slow breakdown of the old ways on Long Island as fishermen whose families have lived there for generations are slowly driven out by the monied classes, turning a sleepy fishing community into something a lot less savoury.
Although some of the book has a slow pace, this perfectly captures the Long Island community circa 1947 and when the action does come, it arrives in a big way. Despite Conrad Labarde’s laconic personality, Mills clearly shows that ‘still waters run deep’ and Labarde is only one step away from swift and decisive action.
I’d thoroughly recommend this book and, while reading, I was reminded again of all the things I’d loved in House of the Hanged and have been newly inspired to read ‘The Savage Garden’ and ‘The Information Officer’ – hopefully I won’t wait another year before picking them up!