Arrow’s Fall by Joel Scott
Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
I once read Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream aloud in a tent, by flashlight, to a friend. There is something about Scott’s long poetically complex sentences, lyrical phrasing, and island scenes that cast me back there as I read this book. There’s a mess of sailing jargon, but a reader can get the gist even if you don’t know your “winged out mizzen” from your “foresail” or your “genoa” (81). There is also a good deal of alcohol consumed by our intrepid captain, Jared Kane and his Haida sidekick, Danny Maclean.
Perhaps, years of rocking through white-crested waves as a sailor and navigating literature as a librarian, combined to produce this effect. Scott’s writing is, at times, intoxicating. He’s been compared to Joseph Conrad, and I’ll go one further. I flashed on William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, not just in the language, but in the brutal events that befall the captain and crew of Arrow.
The plot is simple. Kane and Maclean are lounging around the North Island in New Zealand with their ugly dog — tanning, drinking, fishing, and tending to chores — when Laura Kennedy asks to charter Arrow. The reluctant hero declines. But then his sailboat is rifled by ex-marine, Lord Barclay Summers. When Jared meets Laura again, she admits that Summers is searching for journals that point to treasure — five million pounds in gold. It seems, the Boussole left France in 1787 containing three treasure chests, Laperouse’s share of the family estate. The Count may have escaped the French Revolution, but his ship floundered somewhere near Fiji and was never seen again. And so the quest begins.
Joseph, a one-hundred-year-old Haida elder, lends a touch of mysticism to the story when he joins the party of adventurers. His dreams of sixteen-foot sharks and poisonous sea snakes buffet the Arrow to her eventual destination. Pursued by Summers in Captain Robin Waverly’s Golden Dragon, the Arrow sails for Fiji. The crew’s feast in traditional Fijian villages and the dive scenes are vivid. Using a hookah — air tubes connected to a raft — rather than tanks, Kane and Kennedy explore the more shallow reefs: “… tiny triggerfish and wrasse near the surface, the ubiquitous parrotfish farther down, and on the bottom, coral trout and groupers, edging out from beneath the reefs for a quick look before vanishing again with a flick of the tail” (202). But what seems like paradise quickly turns lethal.
A subplot is the mad love story played out by two tragically-flawed characters. Their love reef is beautiful, and nothing like the lagoon they wind up in, which is something from another planet. An evil planet. Waverly, Summers, and their band of mercenaries are sadistic villains, whose lust for treasure and violence drives the back half of the book.
Though a sequel to Arrow’s Flight (2018), this was my first dive into Joel Scott’s nautical thrillers. I will definitely go back and read the adventures of Jared Kane and Danny Maclean. I once thought I might like to learn to sail, but now I’m not so sure.
Arrow's Fall is published by ECW Press.