Former Durango Police Capt. Micki Browning has just released Adrift, her first mystery novel. Since retiring, Browning has moved to the Florida Keys and now has much greater opportunity to enjoy her love of deep-sea diving. This led to the birth of Adrift and the creation of the Mer Cavallo mystery series.
Cavallo is new to the Keys. She is unfamiliar with the area because she is a marine biologist who has just arrived after doing research on octopuses (not octopi as commonly thought) in the Arctic. She is working at the Aquarius Dive Shop, a temporary job, until she can get her next academic research position to fully use her expertise and her Ph.D. The owner, Bijoux, who hails from Haiti, is a colorful woman who aspires to smooth the rough edges off Cavallo’s “just the facts” mentality. Captain Leroy, skipper of the Luna Sea, is a warm, solid character who enjoys his verbal sparring with Cavallo.
Cavallo is just easing into a comfortable life in the warmth and humidity of the Keys, when a random rescue at sea turns into a social media free-for-all. This all begins during a tour, when a diver, who somehow traveled five miles from his ship, is saved by Cavallo. The diver, suffering from severe panic, claims he was pursued by a ghost, or presence. His repeated story is uploaded to YouTube by divers from Cavallo’s ship, resulting in a media welcome party when they dock back at their home port. Let the paranormal circus begin. This dismays scientist Cavallo, who does not believe in ghosts. At all.
The next morning, Cavallo is greeted by a strange, intense man named Ishmael Styx. Ishmael is the co-owner of Spirited Divers Paranormal Scuba Team and wants to charter an entire boat to find evidence of the ghost seen at the site of the Spiegel Grove shipwreck. The paranormal team is working on a documentary about ghosts and responded quickly to the sighting by the lost diver.
Styx requests Cavallo personally to be the safety diver for his chartered nighttime dive trip because she would make a credible witness when they gather the “proof” of the ghost’s existence.
As the trip progresses, Cavallo is alarmed to find that one member lacks real dive experience. As the dive unfolds, Cavallo’s misgivings are proven correct when the diver suffers a panic attack and must be helped to the surface. After they finally get back on board safely, Cavallo is shocked to discover that Styx didn’t make it back. He’s disappeared. Cavallo and another team member return to the wreck, but still no Styx. Searchers will return in daylight, but by then it will be a recovery mission and not a rescue.
Cavallo spends most of the night being questioned by Detective Talbot, a member of the Sheriff’s Department dive team. Styx’s disappearance drives Cavallo to try to make rational sense of what happened. As she pursues her quest, she becomes a target, then yet another of the paranormal team becomes a victim. Blended into this action is the threat of an approaching hurricane, another ghost sighting and then, an unexpected appearance of Cavallo’s former love. Her hands are full trying to solve the mystery and escape the clutches of a killer.
Adrift is a marvelous debut novel. Browning’s descriptions make readers feel the sticky heat and humidity of the sultry climate of the Keys. She introduces readers to the fascinating world of scuba diving. Her characters are believable and intriguing. Browning makes the reader unfamiliar with the setting and culture of the Keys want to learn more about the area, and especially curious about what will happen next in Cavallo’s life. Luckily, the next novel, Beached, is coming soon.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.