Government clerk Laurence Jago returns, trading London’s political corridors and the dark alleys of Black Drop for passage to America with the hope of redemption in Leonora Nattrass’ sequel, Blue Water.
Death came aboard with the cormorant. It arrived on the seventh day of our voyage…
This is the secret report of disgraced former Foreign Office clerk Laurence Jago, written on the mail ship Tankerville en route to Philadelphia. His mission is to aid the civil servant charged with carrying a vital treaty to Congress that will prevent the Americans from joining with the French in their war against Britain.
When the civil servant meets an unfortunate ‘accidental’ end, Laurence becomes the one person standing between Britain and disaster. It is his great chance to redeem himself at Whitehall – except that his predecessor has taken the secret of the treaty’s hiding place to his watery grave.
One of my favourite reads last year was Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass, so I was excited about Laurence Jago’s return in Blue Water. If you haven’t read Black Drop and don’t want spoilers, let alone any hints as to what he gets up to in Blue Water, you probably need to stop reading at the end of this paragraph. Right before you go and find a copy of Black Drop, read it and then come back here, that is. And yes, you could read Blue Water as a standalone but why would you want to miss out on his first foray in the corridors of power and such deliciously dark yet authentic historical fiction?!
Blue Water not only sees the return of Laurence Jago, now in somewhat reduced circumstances and reluctant as ever to be a spy, but also other characters we met in Black Drop: journalist, William Philpott; son to the American envoy and Founding Father, Theodore Jay: slave, valet and secretary to the Jay family, Peter Williams; and, of course, Laurence’s dog, Mr Gibbs, whose loyalties are every bit as questionable as those of some other passengers aboard the Tankerville.
It’s great to have these familiar faces reunite with Laurence Jago, while also getting to know them better. And, in switching the setting for her second book, Leonora Nattrass takes them out of their comfort zone and has them all at sea, in every sense. It’s interesting to see how they respond to this change in circumstances. Some fare better than others. Peter Williams’ presence is strangely reassuring, as he quietly goes about his tasks, and we come to learn more about him. And Mr Philpott continues to be a firm favourite of mine, and adds some humorous touches, just as he did in the first book. His cannons home were amusing but when he starts his dictionary, he really hit his stride and I laughed so much, especially when the crew helps him with material for his entries.
The passenger manifest may look all above board but, after the first death occurs, it almost begins to appear as motley and suspect as the crew sometimes comes across. (And I have to say that I loved this about the crew, together with recognising some familiar-sounding names in their midst and wondering if Leonora Nattrass took her inspiration from fictional or real-life namesakes.) I relished seeing how each new passenger affects the onboard dynamic, and how living at such close quarters adds an extra frisson of tension to this. I don’t want to go into specifics as to who the newcomers are or what role they play because I had fun discovering this and wouldn’t want to spoil that for you.
A sea voyage on a small packet ship carrying the mail from Falmouth to Philadelphia at this time was already fraught with danger but the passengers and crew of the Tankerville have an early taste of the additional threat lying in wait for them in a pursuit scene reminiscent of Patrick O’Brian’s books or the Master and Commander: Far Side of the World film adaptation of those same novels. This sense of imminent threat is a recurring motif throughout Blue Water and mirrors that which Laurence Jago faces on board, although admittedly he’s far less alert to the risk posed to him than the Captain and crew of the Tankerville and his attempts to outrun it are certainly less skilful than theirs.
Laurence Jago sets out, uncertain of his future. He’s undercover, on a secret mission to help get the Jay treaty safely across to America, something made more difficult when the agent entrusted with it, dies. As the Tankerville is chased across the ocean, Laurence Jago tries to discover the treaty’s hiding place before any of the other passengers or crew, all while trying to fathom their motivation for wanting it themselves and whether or not he can trust any of them.
Blue Water has all the intrigue and suspense of Black Drop but with a heightened sense of jeopardy and more personal stakes. Where Black Drop dealt in political machinations and espionage, life aboard the Tankerville is fraught with very real danger and a more urgent risk to life and limb. The superstitions of the crew add yet another layer to this tale of intrigue, murderous intent and the race to locate the prize, or treaty. Leonora Nattrass sets her course and holds it beautifully, ensuring Blue Water never hits the doldrums or sinks its cargo, but instead fills our sails with this thrilling adventure story. I loved it.
Blue Water by Leonora Nattrass is the sequel to Black Drop. Both books are published by Viper Books, the crime imprint of Serpent’s Tail. It’s available from 20th October as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback with the paperback due out next year. You can pre-order it at Amazon UK (affiliate link), Bookshop.org (affiliate link), Hive and Waterstones. For more on Leonora Nattrass, check out her Author Website or follow her on Twitter.
My thanks to Rosie Parnham at the publisher for providing me with a review copy.
Be sure to check out the other ports of call on the blog tour which continues until 24th October: