January Read of the Month: “Wrecked,” by Mary Anna Evans

Mary Anna Evans

Reviewed by Claire Hamner Matturro

Writing a successful mystery series is a hard thing to do well. Not only must series authors continue to create intriguing and original plots time after time, but they must also keep the recurring characters fresh while rotating in new villains, alternate heroes, and supporting personalities. It also helps to give a unique quality or talent to the main protagonist as that character will appear in book after book and must continue to grow and captivate readers. In the truly best of such series, the setting becomes as much a character as the people and plot. The added value of a great series also lies in the book’s ability to teach readers something.

That said, Mary Anna Evans, the award-winning author of the Faye Longchamp mysteries, hits all the right nails on the head in Wrecked (Poison Pen 2020), her newest in the long-running series. Her plot remains distinctive and well-paced. Her main characters grow, change, and face new personal challenges. The new villain has an original deviousness, and innovative supporting cast members appear. Faye Longchamp, as a Florida-based archaeologist, mother, wife and frequent law enforcement consultant, certainly continues to captivate with her unique blend of science and spunk. The lush Florida setting is richly described in evocative ways which make the locale an essential part of the plot twists and accurate flashes of history enrich the story.

In Wrecked, Faye Longchamp-Mantooth, Joe Wolf Mantooth and their two children are home on Joyeusa Island, Faye’s ancestral home, in the aftermath of a fiercely destructive hurricane. Along with their adopted teenage daughter, Amande, Faye and Joe are helping the survivors of the storm by chain-sawing trees, clearing roads and yards, fending off aggressive and unethical sorts who seek to take advantage of the residents’ dire situation, and bringing in the necessaries of food and water. Things are very difficult to say the least. Their son, Michael, is too young to help, but cheerfully adds charm to the domestic scenes.

Joe, a Native American who generally forsakes modern technology, has become fascinated with his drone and its ability to take aerial photographs. A picture taken by the drone of the storm damage is page one on the local newspaper. Sharp-eyed Faye, ever the archaeologist, spots something dark in the waters in the drone’s photo. It could be a shipwreck, or it could be an offshore submarine spring—either of which could have been unearthed by the forces of water and wind in the hurricane. Though she is intrigued, helping the hurricane survivors is paramount and Faye can’t stop to swim out to see what is there. But she does discuss the mysterious shadow with her close friend and local historian, Captain Edward Eubanks. He thinks the shadow could be an uncovered sunken blockade runner from the Civil War called the Philomela. While not a treasure ship, the Philomela was a smuggler’s ship and could hold valuables. But Eubanks is far more interested in historical artifacts and he is eager to jump in and investigate. Faye puts him off because she needs to help more hurricane victims, including Eubank’s isolated sister.

Not too long after their visit, Amande finds Eubanks’s body floating by the local marina, apparently drowned in a scuba diving accident. But Eubanks was not known to be a diver, and Faye is immediately suspicious as well as grief stricken. She blames herself for his death because she didn’t go with him to the site.

The death of Eubanks looks like a tragic accident. After all, he was not young, apparently went out untrained and alone, and there are no obvious wounds or scuba equipment damage or other signs of foul play. Heart attack, drowning, or any one of a hundred mistakes an inexperienced diver could make are tossed out as possible reasons for his death. But Faye isn’t satisfied with such speculation.

The investigating law enforcement officer, Lieutenant Baker, clearly wants to write off Eubank’s death as an accident so she can continue searching for a missing mother and child, presumed victims of the hurricane. Faye pressures Sheriff Ken Rainey to consider the death a murder, but she also strikes out to solve the mystery herself with the help of Joe and Amande.

Whirled through the complicated plot that follows, teenage Amande and Faye squabble with the inherent tensions in any mother-daughter relationship. Evans captures the frictions early on: “Amande’s surly expression was inextricable from her status as a nineteen-year-old still living at home with her parents.” But Amande might be in danger from the same person or persons who killed Captain Eubanks, and her youth makes her boldly oblivious to the increasing risks.

While a fictional island, Joyeusa is located near the very real towns of Sopchoppy, Panacea, and Crawfordville in Wakulla County, Florida. As a former long-time resident of Florida, Evans knows the state and captures the mystic beauty of the locations. Evans adds an additional element to the setting by giving the island its history through the eyes of an educated former slave—Faye’s ancestor—who kept an extensive journal which Faye treasures and studies.

Evans also captures the aftermath of a hurricane perfectly. For example, she describes Amande’s efforts in providing food and water to people without power, essential supplies, cell phones or a roof over their homes:

Looking at the damage left by the hurricane broke Amande’s heart. It made her feel helpless, useless. There was no quicker way to become a hero than to hand a bottle of water to a Floridian who had been without air conditioning for a July week. But Amande didn’t want to be a hero. She was looking at a torn-apart world, and she wanted a different one.

Wrecked, as the thirteenth book in the Faye Longchamp series, showcases Mary Anna Evans’ talent for crafting a complex plot and creating an imaginary world so real readers feel the humidity and taste the Gulf’s salt air. She brings captivating characters to life on her pages and writes eloquent, multi-layered atmospheric mysteries. By weaving science and history into her stories, Evans educates with a subtle but invigorating quality, and she never fails to deliver a whopping grand story. Absorbing and erudite, Wrecked is a powerful new edition to this long-standing, often awarded series.

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  1. Thanks so much! I’m honored!

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