Woods, Stuart. Dead in the Water (1997)
Harper Collins, 325 pages, $25.00 hardcover
ISBN 0 06 018368 3
Stone Barrington arrives in St. Marks, a Caribbean island nation, where he has chartered a yacht for 10 days of sailing. But his live-in lover, Arrington Carter, is prevented from joining him, first by work obligations and then by a snowstorm that halts all flights out of New York City. Feeling sorry for himself, Stone is easily distracted when another yacht arrives in the marina with a single passenger aboard, a beautiful woman.
Stone soon learns that the woman is Allison Manning, wife of best-selling novelist Paul Manning. Allison and Paul were sailing around the world, but Allison reports that Paul died of a heart attack and she was forced to bury him at sea. Sir Winston Sutherland, the defense minister of St. Marks, has aspirations of becoming the country’s next prime minister. He sees a high-profile trial as just the thing to propel him on his way and proceeds to put Allison on trial for the murder of her husband.
Stone of course takes up the lady’s cause and signs on as the assistant to the only attorney on St. Marks who will dare to defend Allison, the ancient Sir Leslie Hewitt. As Stone begins to prepare a legal defense for Allison, he occasionally has doubts himself about her innocence—doubts that do not prevent him from continuing to defend her or to pursue her.
The vagaries of the legal system of the small island nation contribute significantly to the suspense of this novel. And along the way we meet a couple of the colorful minor characters that Stuart Woods is so good at creating: Thomas Hardy, the former New York City police officer who now runs a restaurant on his native island, and Sir Leslie Hewitt, the elderly rebel barrister who enjoys once again standing up to the abuse of authority.
Dead in the Water ends with a cliffhanger that suggests we may meet Stone Barrington again. Woods confirms this suggestion with the following author’s note: “Stone Barrington first made his appearance in New York Dead and came back for Dirt and now Dead in the Water. He will next appear in Swimming to Catalina, which will be published by HarperCollins in the spring of 1998.”
One aspect of Stuart Woods’s body of work that I originally found appealing is that each novel is independent. But now it looks as if Woods is becoming a series novelist. If he had to develop a series, I’m not sure Stone Barrington is the best character to feature. (The supposedly Indian attorney in Santa Fe Rules would have been my choice.) However, Stone Barrington apparently fascinates Woods, who even apologizes for him in the author’s note at the end of Dead in the Water: “I apologize to those few readers who have complained about his sexual nature, but he doesn’t seem to be able to control himself.” Stone Barrington has apparently taken over Stuart Woods’s imagination, at least for the time being.
© 1998 by Mary Daniels Brown