Another cracking mariner’s tale, from former maritime safety officer and master storyteller, Ian Clarke, Strange Company is the fast-paced sequel to Clarke’s successful A Very Fishy Business (Oceanbooks), and a great stand-alone read in its own right. In Ralph Sinclair’s latest adventure, the marine surveyor investigates the disappearance Mirianda Holliwell, an environmentalist lost overboard in the Kirispari Islands of the South Pacific. Mirianda is the wife of Ralph’s business partner, but until her death has been confirmed one way or another, Ralph’s partner isn’t able to carry on, and neither can Ralph and his fiancé Nicola: the business, and their marriage, are on hold, unless Ralph can get to the bottom of it all. But does Ralph really believe Mirianda is still alive, or is he more intrigued by the connection to an old mystery from his past?
Clarke’s use of island vernacular adds a tropical flavour and sense of community to this salty tale, but that same familiarity can also be forbidding, as menacing forces follow poor Ralph as he races from one disaster to the next: falling overboard, being incarcerated, and getting himself flung into a tension-wracked sea battle. There’s a lot of technical information in this story, but Clarke delivers it artfully, in a way that is easy to understand yet doesn’t slow the pace of this rollicking sea tale by a nautical knot. And if you thought our hero was a bit bumbling and inept in A Very Fishy Business, he turns out to be quite the champion this time around—which I’m putting down to his fiance’ Nicola’s influence! A wonderful read and a must-have gift for all boaties this Christmas.