This contemporary Columbia River thriller, A Killing Tide, was a RITA finalist and climbed the charts to stay on the New York Times and USA Today bestselling lists for eight weeks. I can tell you why – this book grips you from the first page.
A Killing Tide by indie author P. J. Alderman takes place in the small Oregon city of Astoria; a town I am quite familiar with. With simple strokes, she evokes the atmosphere of the coastal town, the eternal grayness and eternal rain. Based in Astoria, Oregon, Columbia River Bar Pilots were established in 1846 to ensure the safety of ships, crews and cargoes crossing the treacherous Columbia River Bar, which is recognized as one of the most dangerous and challenging navigated stretches of water in the world. The men and women who fish those waters are also a rare breed.
(Kasmira) Kaz Jorgensen was once a well-known local fisher-woman, and has recently returned to Astoria and fishing after a long absence from fishing as financial a consultant in San Francisco. Her best friend had called her, telling her there was trouble with her brother Gary, but not what the trouble was. She has not been able to talk much to him, due to having to be out on her own boat, the Kasmira B, and things are somewhat distant between them.
Kaz has not been welcomed back with open arms by her brother or the community at large. Having just lost half her pots and most of her catch to a vandal at sea, she brings her boat in late. She arrives at the Redemption, a tavern frequented by the local fishers, and meets up with her best friend, Detective Lucy McGuire who is also her brother’s girlfriend. Also eating dinner in the Redemption is the new fire chief, Michael Chapman. Just hired from Boston, Chapman is a man with a history, which comes out as the story progresses.
That evening in the Redemption, Michael witnesses Kaz trying to break up a violent disagreement between Kaz’s brother Gary and his friend, Chuck. Because she is no longer considered a member of the community for reasons which gradually emerge. Everyone warns Kaz to stay out of ‘it’; indicating to her that whatever is going on between Chuck and Gary is big and it involves the whole fishing community. Michael Chapman intervenes, to Kaz’s irritated chagrin.
That night a friend, Ken Lundquist, is murdered; a family man who is also a crewman on her brother’s boat, the Anna Marie. Gary, a vet suffering from post-traumatic-stress syndrome, is immediately suspected of murdering him and committing arson to burn his boat to cover it up. Making things worse, Gary has vanished. Police Chief Jim Sykes, a man with political ambitions, is hot on Gary’s trail, sure he is the culprit. Michael, as fire-marshal, is leaping to no conclusions, and is handling the investigation his own way.
This is an intense tale of greed and small-town lust for power and easy money. Each and every character is fully fleshed out and you immediately like or dislike them with one exception. Jim Sykes remains somewhat of an enigma right up to the end.
The attraction between Kaz and Michael Chapman is part of what makes this tale so engrossing. The possibility of their romance is a thread which weaves in and out of the tapestry that is this mystery. Right up to the end, I was unsure as to whom the culprit was and the ending is a thrilling as any you could ask for.
First published in 2006, A Killing Tide was my introduction to P.J. Alderman’s work. She has become one of my go-to mystery writers, and I have enjoyed everything she has written.