Vacationing on the island of Antigua, New York investigator/lawyer Stone Barrington (a Woods perennial) gives up on the warm waters of the Caribbean to help someone who's definitely in hot watera young woman accused of murder when her wealthy husband disappears from their yacht during a transatlantic crossing.
Woods bounces back from the doldrums of his last few formula thrillers in this tidy did-she-do-it puzzler, nicely stirred by Caribbean breezes.
When the 45-foot yacht Expansive puts into the island paradise of St. Marks, the only thing missing is the skipper, mystery novelist Paul Manning, who, his wife tearfully tells the authorities, suffered a fatal heart attack while she watched helplessly from high atop a mast, and had to be buried at sea. The story's good enough for the coroner's inquest, but not for Sir Winston Sutherland, the ambitious Minister of Justice, who thinks a high-profile conviction might be just the thing to vault him into the aging Prime Minister's post. Luckily for Allison, she has just the credentials (blond hair, killer bod, boundless sexual stamina) to secure herself the premier legal representation on St. Marks: vacationing New York lawyer Stone Barrington (Dirt, 1996, etc.), whose appetite for adventure, etc., has been whetted by the unexpected absence of his live-in girlfriend Arrington Carter. It's a case that suits Woods's talent for streamlined, unnuanced narrative down to the shoreline. With no witnesses but Allisonnow enjoying a cool $12 million payoff from Paul's insuranceand virtually no physical evidence showing how (or even whether) Paul met his death, Stone doesn't have to bother arguing the facts; all he has to do is orchestrate a massive p.r. campaign designed to impress on the government what a disaster a conviction would be for St. Marks's crucial tourist industrywhile trying to find some wiggle room in the island's draconian trial law, which pretty much assumes that the accused is guilty and the real crime would be keeping the jury past dinnertime.
Trying to make this neat, utterly unsurprising, taleWoods's best since L.A. Times (1993)last more than one sitting would be like staying up all night nursing a Godiva truffle.
Read an Excerpt
Dead in the Water
A Novel Chapter One
Stone Barrington slowly opened his eyes and stared blearily at the pattern of moving light above him. Disoriented, he tried to make sense of the light. Then it came to him: he was aboard a yacht, and the light was reflected off the water.
He sat up and rubbed his eyes. The night before had been the stuff of bad dreams; he never wanted to have another like it. The nightmare had started at Kennedy Airport, when his live-in girlfriend, Arrington Carter, had not shown up for the flight. She was supposed to come directly from the magazine office where she had been meeting with an editor, but she had not arrived.
Stone had found a phone and had tracked down Arrington, still at The New Yorker.
"Hello?" she said.
Stone glanced at his watch. "I guess you're not going to make the plane," he said. "It leaves in twenty minutes."
"Stone, I'm so sorry; I've been having you paged at the terminal. Didn't you hear the page?"
He tried to keep his voice calm. "No, I didn't."
"Everything has exploded here. I took the proposal for the profile on Vance Calder to Tina Brown, and she went for it instantly. Turns out she had tried and tried to do a piece with Vance when she was at Vanity Fair, and he would never cooperate."
"That's wonderful," he said tonelessly. "I'm happy for you."
"Look, darling, Vance is coming into New York tomorrow, and I've got to introduce him to Tina at lunch, there's just no getting around it."
"I see," he replied.
"Don't worry, I'm already booked on the same flight tomorrow. You go ahead to St. Marks, take delivery of the boat, put in some provisions,and get gloriously drunk. I'll be there by midnight."
"All right," he said.
"Oh," she sighed, "I'm so relieved you're not angry. I know you can see what a break this is for me. Vance hasn't sat still for an in-depth interview for more than twenty years. Tina says she'll bump up the printing for the anticipated increase in newsstand sales."
"That's great," he said, making an effort to sound glad for her. "I'll meet you at the St. Marks airport tomorrow night, then."
"Oh, don't do that; just sit tight, and I'll grab a cab." She lowered her voice. "And when I get there, sweetie, try and be well rested, because I'm going to bounce you off the bedsprings a whole lot; you read me?"
"I read you loud and clear. I'd better run; they've almost finished boarding. And remember, we've only got the boat for ten days; don't waste any more."
"I really am going to make it up to you in the best possible way, Stone," she said. "Bye-bye."
"Bye." Stone hung up the phone and ran for his plane. Moments later, he had settled into a comfortable leather seat and had in his hand a rum and tonic, in honor of his long-anticipated winter holiday. As the big jet taxied out to the runway he looked out the window and saw that it had started to snow. Good. Why have a tropical holiday if you can't gloat?
Vance Calder was, arguably, Hollywood's premier male star, often called the new Cary Grant, and he had played an important part in Stone's and Arrington's lives already. She had been in Calder's company when they had met at a dinner party at the home of a gossip columnist nearly a year earlier. Although Stone had been struck by her beauty and had found her marvelous company, he had not bothered to call her, because he hadn't believed for a moment that he could take a girl away from Vance Calder. Instead, Arrington had called him. Vance, she had explained, was no more than an acquaintance who, when he was in New York, liked to have a pretty girl to squire around, especially at dinners like the one at Amanda Dart's apartment, which she would feature in her column.
Inside a few weeks they were living together, and Stone had never been happier. At forty-two, he was still a bachelor, and he liked it that way. Living with Arrington, though, had made a lack of freedom seem very attractive, and he was determined to hang on to her, even if it came to marriage. Marriage had been increasingly on his mind of late, especially since Arrington had been showing signs of feeling a lack of commitment on his part. On the plane down to St. Marks he had reached a decision. They would have a wonderful cruise on the chartered boat, and they would come back engaged, unless it turned out to be easy to be wed in St. Marks; in that case, they would come back married. He was looking forward to the prospect.
Then the night began to go wrong. In San Juan, their first stop, he learned that his flight to St. Martin, the next leg, had been delayed by two hours. In St. Martin, the connecting flight to Antigua had also been delayed, and by the time he had arrived there, the light twin that would take him to St. Marks had already left and had to be summoned back at great expense. He had reached St. Marks sometime after 3:00 a.m. Nevertheless, he had been met by the charter agent and taken to the boat, a Beneteau 36, a roomy French design, and had, without unpacking, fallen dead into the double berth in the little owner's cabin.
He got out of bed and stumbled naked into the little galley and found half a jar of instant coffee in a cupboard. Shortly he had found the gas tap in the cockpit, boiled a kettle, and made himself a really terrible cup of coffee. While he drank it he took a stroll around the interior of the little yacht, a very short stroll indeed. He was glad there would be only the two of them aboard. Dead in the Water
A Novel. Copyright (c) by Stuart Woods . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.