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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Shipwreck Island by James B. McPike

Peta Stavelli persists with this thriller to find an ultimately enjoyable lazy day read.

A well-known publisher once said, “It doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they read.” Initially, I did not agree with him, but I now do. Sometimes you just have to let go of the critic and get carried away with the story. Shipwreck Island proved to be a perfect example of this.

Let me say at the outset that if you love thrillers, treasure hunting and shipwrecks this is a cracking read. Despite some initial difficulty, I persisted, and eventually found it hard to put down. McPike can certainly weave a tale; and his talents have been lauded by readers who voted it five stars on Readers’ Favorite (sic). McPike was also a Top Ten finalist in Clive Cussler’s Adventure Writer's Competition.

Like Cussler, McPike is an American adventure novelist with a passion for maritime thrillers. Shipwreck Island is his fifth book and it’s set in contemporary New Zealand, mostly on the Auckland Islands where the treasure-laden General Grant which smashed into the Auckland Islands in May, 1866, and has remained forever lost.

And that’s where the wheels came off for me. While Californian-based McPike has clearly done his research about the elusive shipwreck there were times when clumsy dialogue and lack of cultural awareness had me cringing. These include the barmaid’s conversation at the Auckland hotel, and the elderly Christchurch clerk wearing a bonnet. Seriously? When was the last time you saw anyone older than five months wearing a bonnet?

There was also the matter of distance between the sub-tropical city of Auckland and the subantarctic Auckland Islands which the skipper announces are a good half day’s sail away. The author was roughly 7,000 miles out in this estimation.

And I found it hard to overlook the constant tautology. Like many self-published writers, McPike would do well to employ a good editor to help cure this impulse once and for all. As an example alarm bells went off for the editor in me on page one when I read ‘Alarm, pandemonium and fear gripped them”. Later: “he pulled up to the grand and regal hotel entrance…” And as a final example: a landscape which is ‘empty, abysmal and bleak’.

You will find many more. But if these can be overlooked, the reader will soon become absorbed in this fast-paced fictional account of the search for the General Grant. Despite numerous attempts to find it, and the loss of many lives, The General Grant which has remained hidden for 186 years, along with its precious cargo of gold, now estimated to be worth more than five million dollars.

In 1996, real life treasure hunter Bill Day found what was at first thought to be the wreck of the General Grant and I couldn’t help but think that he might have inspired McPike’s central character Roy Berenger. Of course to spice things up a bit Berenger is given a love interest in Natalie Claiborne, and there are plenty of twisted characters and ultimate villains to further pepper the pages, as fact warps into fiction.

They say you shouldn’t let facts get in the way of a good story, so if you know someone who loves a good thriller and you think they could overlook the over-writing and cross-cultural mistakes; I’d definitely recommend this one for under the Christmas tree.

Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Fireship Press


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