“Precious Cargo” © 2006 by Clyde Ford
One can’t help but like Charlie Noble, the live-aboard investigator in love with wooden boats, just learning to love a new woman after the painful death of his first wife, whom he still grieves.
With his earnest efforts to master the guitar, he seems like a nice guy. He listens well and compassionately, and he is even willing to delay his own cruising plans to try to bring peace of mind to two aging sailors. The sailors have the misfortune to bring up the body of a young girl with their anchor one spring morning when heading north for the summer from Cypress Island.
But Charlie is a flawed guy. He takes on a case and delays his cruising plans without asking his girlfriend. He can get violent and in the midst of a fight he seems to enjoy it, even if he is fighting for justice. His flaws make him real, and likable. Same for the other three-dimensional character in the book: Raven, a Lummi-Haida man who is a former U.S. Navy SEAL.
Charlie’s case involves human trafficking, prostitution and indentured labor right here in the Northwest, and the book reads much like a screenplay, with fast cuts, lots of false leads and a rather complicated mystery. Are mysteries now written for the screen, or has the screen so influenced our ideas of how a plot should proceed that even in literature readers expect fast cuts and violence that moves so many mysteries and cop shows? One of the themes of the novel is ethnicity and race relationships, and the tangles between whites and blacks, and Native Americans and Mexicans.
I read “Precious Cargo” a few months ago; by now I’ve forgotten most of the violence, but I remember Charlie and the real murderer, who is one piece of work. If you like all that action, you will probably like this book. Even if you don’t like violence and foul language, you still might like this book. Ford gets the San Juan Islands ambience right and, more importantly, he gets something about difficult characters right that make his book memorable.
“Precious Cargo,” like all books reviewed in this column, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.
— Beth Helstien is the outreach coordinator for the San Juan Island Library. She may be contacted at 378-2798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.