AGATHA AWARD NOMINEE • In this breathtaking mystery debut, a marine biologist turned divemaster stands accused of a chilling crime after a dive gone wrong. But do the murky circumstances point to an accident, a murder, or a supernatural encounter?
Mer Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze. But when she rescues a floundering diver who claims to have seen a ghost, she’s caught in a storm of intrigue. News of the encounter explodes on social media, attracting a team of ghost hunters who want to capture proof that a greenish ghoul haunts Key Largo’s famed USS Spiegel Grove shipwreck.
Mer knows the wreck inside and out, and agrees to act as their safety diver. When Ishmael, the charismatic leader of the group, vanishes during a midnight dive, everyone except Mer is convinced the ghost has claimed another victim. Topside, the tenacious detective in charge of the investigation finds Mer’s involvement in both incidents suspicious, and her enigmatic neighbor resurrects ghosts from her past.
Determined to find a rational explanation, Mer approaches Ishmael’s disappearance as any scientist would—by asking questions, gathering data, and deducing the truth. But the victim’s life is as shrouded in mystery as his disappearance. Still, something happened under the water and before long, she’s in over her head. When someone tries to kill her, she knows the truth is about to surface. Maybe dead men do tell tales after all.
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The deck rolled beneath her feet as another swell hit the boat broadside. Meredith Cavallo shifted one foot slightly in front of the other, rocking her hips to absorb the motion. If only everything else in her life could be weathered as easily.
The wind had picked up since the fourteen scuba divers had plunged off the commercial dive boat and into the water above Key Largo’s famed Molasses Reef. She scanned the water’s surface, looking for bubbles. They’d been down about forty-five minutes and should be surfacing soon.
Most of the divers were experienced, but she worried about one couple from the Midwest who had just earned their certifications. These waves were going to be a problem when they surfaced. Sweat dampened the back of her neck. She pulled an elastic out of her shorts pocket and wrangled her dark hair into a braid, while mentally reviewing the emergency equipment stowed on board.
“Brace yourself,” Leroy shouted from the wheelhouse. “We’ve got incoming.”
She grabbed the safety rail above her head. The boat shuddered as a massive wave smashed into the LunaSea, forcing Mer to hop to keep her balance. Scuba tanks clanged against one another as the boat settled into the trough.
Two tanned bandy legs appeared as Captain Leroy Penninichols descended the aluminum ladder connecting the upper and lower decks. “That’ll make a rabbit smack a bear,” he said.
Mer crinkled her brow. “You realize that wouldn’t end well for the rabbit, right?”
The portly captain stepped onto the lower deck. “Why are you always so damn analytical?” Merriment was hidden behind the gruff words.
“One hardly has to be analytical to see the problem with a mismatch of that magnitude.”
An ever-present plastic straw barely extended beyond the thatch of silver-streaked dark beard that covered the bottom half of his face. “Yeah, well, I’m still rooting for the bunny.”
Of course he was. Mer smiled. Leroy always cheered for the underdog. That’s why he’d taken her under his wing when she signed on as crew two months ago. Since then, she’d alternated between teaching scuba and acting as his first mate.
Leroy brushed past her and stepped into the sunshine. The bottom deck resembled the bed of a pickup truck. Benches lined the port and starboard sides where divers sat to don their gear. Two “dry” tables occupied real estate in the middle, although staying dry on a boat was a wish rarely granted. A swim step, a platform extending from the stern, supported two swim ladders. Today one remained lashed in place, while the port ladder hung in the water.
He leaned against the table and oriented himself like a sunflower toward the sun. “You aren’t on an old tub in Antarctica anymore, Cavallo. You may want to try toasting that pasty skin of yours a little.”
Mer dragged a tube of lotion from the backpack she kept stashed up front. “My research was in the Arctic. Big difference.”
“North Pole, South Pole. What’s it matter? Neither one is paradise.”
She took off her crew shirt and slathered a gob of sunblock on her face and around the edges of her red Speedo tank. “You can’t meet Santa at the South Pole.”
“My, aren’t we feeling feisty today? And all this time I had you pegged as lumping Santa together with the tooth fairy, leprechauns, and honest politicians.”
A glimmer of movement caught her attention. “Diver up.” She stood and pointed off the starboard side of the boat. “About thirty yards out. Just ripped off his mask.” She shimmied out of her shorts.
Leroy shielded his eyes. “That one of ours?”
Three other dive charters bobbed in the choppy seas, all on mooring balls even farther from where the diver had come up.
“No idea, but we’re definitely closest.” She grabbed her mask, fins, and snorkel in one hand and signaled to the diver by placing her fist on the top of her head. She waited for him to mimic the signal to let the boat know that he was okay. Instead, he spit the regulator out of his mouth and started thrashing the water, fighting to stay above the whitecaps.
“Diver! Inflate your vest,” Mer shouted, shoving her feet into her fins.
“He can’t hear you,” Leroy said.
She pulled the mask strap over her head. Leroy handed her a bright-orange flotation device with a line attached to it. “You’ll have to swim it out to him. Get him to the current line and I’ll tow you back in.”
Mer’s heart beat faster. She clutched the seahorse pendant around her neck and took a steadying breath. “Keep pointing at him. These waves will hide him.”
The next wave drove the stern close to the surface and Mer stepped off the boat. The initial shock washed the heat of the sun off her skin. The surging water pulled at the emergency flotation she carried and threw off the smoothness of her strokes as she swam away from the LunaSea. A particularly large wave welled beneath her. She tried to aim for the diver, but she couldn’t see him.
She spun in the water. Leroy stood on the deck of the LunaSea, still pointing. Mer corrected to her left and swam as if a life depended on her.
As she closed in on the flailing man, she removed her snorkel. “Diver, are you okay?”
The question was rhetorical, but it gave Mer time to assess his condition. Big guy. Ill-fitting equipment. Too much white showing around his unfocused eyes. All clues that he was in over his head.
“Help me! Keep it away from me!”
She splashed him in the face. It startled him, and for a moment he stopped struggling and focused.
“Look at me.” She pointed at her eyes with two fingers, treading water beyond his reach. She didn’t recognize him from the boat. “Look at me. I’m here to help. Let me help you.” She extended the flotation device toward him.
He reached for it just as a wave swamped them. The diver choked on the brine. With renewed panic, he lunged at Mer, intent on using her body as high ground.
She submerged herself, then popped out of the water behind him, grabbed his tank, and clamped her knees around it. “It’s okay, I’ve got you.” She spoke close to his ear.
The diver twisted, his fingers clawing at her.
Snaking her left arm around him, she mashed the inflator button. Air rushed into his jacket. “You’re okay. Everything’s going to be fine. My name’s Mer. What’s yours?”
His body rose above the water, and some of the tension left his face.
“Rob. My name is Rob Price.”
“Rob. Pleasure to meet you.” She used the cheerful voice she reserved for small children and drowning men.
“How about we get you back to the boat?”
He jerked upright. “We gotta get out of here!”
“I’m going to tow you in. Can you help kick?”
“It’s getting closer.”
His alarm quickened her pulse. “What’s getting closer?” The ocean had plenty of docile animals that looked like man-eaters to the inexperienced, and just enough real dangers to keep things interesting. She dipped her face in the water and scanned beneath them. Nothing. “How are you feeling?”
“Not good. Nothing’s right.”
Crap. Wrong answer. “What’s going on?”
“I’m . . . my . . . did you see that?” He pointed behind her.
His fear infected her. She twisted around but didn’t see anything. “What? What did you see?”
He tensed, shuddered, then went limp.
“Shit!” She moved quickly, pulling him backward until he floated faceup on the water. She stripped her mask off, hooked it over her arm, and then checked to make sure he was still breathing. The waves pummeled them, but at last his chest rose.
The boat bobbed nearly a hundred feet away. “Why is it always the big guys?” She yanked the weight pockets out of his vest and let them fall the thirty feet or so to the ocean floor. Grabbing the tank valve, she towed his limp body toward the LunaSea.
“Couldn’t be the size of a turtle.” She spoke to calm herself. “Nooooo. You had to be a flippin’ whale shark.”
The current worked against her. “Oh, and for the record?” She struggled to keep his face protected from the waves. “It’d be really nice if you’d mentioned what I’m protecting you from.”
She swiveled her head, searching for threats. The wind wailed in her ears and blasted spray into her face. She focused on the LunaSea. Kicked harder.
Finally she reached the end of the orange current line and Leroy pulled her the remaining twenty-five feet. The ladder slapped the water with the passage of each wave.
The buckles on Rob’s vest held fast as she fumbled in the water to release them. At last they yielded, and Mer freed the unconscious man from his equipment.
Leroy leaned over the stern and grabbed Rob’s gear. “I’ve been timing the waves,” he said. “Wait for the next one to pass and grab the ladder as quick as you can.”
She yanked off her fins and flung them toward the captain. “Catch.”
Mer fought to keep Rob on the surface, and they bobbed in the water just beyond the back of the boat. She’d get only one chance at doing this without injury, and she’d have to move fast.
She imagined carrying him like a sleepy child, his arms draped over her shoulders, his face against her neck. Only she had to grab the ladder, find her footing and wedge her leg between his, or the force of the rocking boat would slam them back into the ocean and slap them with the metal ladder for good measure.
“Here it comes, Cavallo,” Leroy said. “Get ready.”
Mer inhaled a deep breath, felt the power of the water swell beneath her. As the wave ebbed, she swam toward the boat, planted her foot, and drew her arms in to pin Rob between her and the ladder. Another wave hit, raising the LunaSea’s stern into the air. Gravity pulled at Mer, doing its best to drag her back into the sea. She gripped the ladder. Her biceps strained until Leroy seized Rob under the armpits and hauled him onto the deck like a gaffed fish.
Before Mer could readjust, the swim step plummeted toward the water and hit with a teeth-jarring thud, then dragged her beneath the surface. She held tight as the boat righted itself, and her head broke the surface just as another wave crested. She spit out salt water and clambered up the ladder, pausing at the top to catch her breath.
Two divers had already surfaced. The husband held his cellphone eye level with Mer’s face while his wife huddled under a towel, trying to stay out of the way. Emergency equipment littered the deck like flotsam. Mer dropped her gear on the bench.
Leroy leaned over the now conscious diver. His tense face made Mer’s pulse race.
Rob clawed at the oxygen mask on his face. “Tell her!”
Leroy brushed the man’s hand aside and resettled the mask.
Mer gripped her pendant. “Tell me what?”
“He says he was diving the Spiegel Grove.”
“Impossible,” she said. “We’re five miles away, and the current’s going in the wrong direction.”
“That he was diving the Spiegel and there was a—” Leroy struggled to find the right word. “Presence.”
“A presence? You mean like a ghost? Please.” She pursed her lips.
He shook his head. “I know. Except just after you went in the Sea Dragon radioed they’re missing a diver off the Spiegel.” He nodded toward Rob. “This one.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A scientist, make that an attractive resourceful Ms Dr. Scientist, is unknowingly set upon by a few scoundrels. The US Navy & Coast Guard would define the main scene as a littoral area comprising shallow coastal water and islands. Navy Sailors the sunken ship USS Spiegel Grove (LSD 32), a part of the Amphibious Assault or informally proud Gator Navy. The main character "Mer" (Meridith) is a licensed diver as part of her PHD background in marine biology. The scoundrels want to use her scientific approach in life to bring credibility to their stories about hauntings and ghosts at a dive site, the USS Spiegel Grove off the Florida coast. They hire her as a reluctant, sceptical, but dedicated dive master. Someone doesn't come back up from the night dive. Uh oh. Romantic scenes, hospitals, scuba gear, and bouncing ships give plot twists fertile ground to develop. Author Mickie Browning's background in law enforcement and diving stands up to hold this story together. Enough realism to draw the fictional out of unseen currents. She drops a few hints along the way adding to the building suspense as you try to figure it all out.
Great story,great writer. Will be looking for more from her.
Combines a compelling plot with good character devlopment
Great story,want to see more of the top characters...when can we expect it.
Nice characters, plot twists.
I loved this novel and couldn’t put it down. I mean, struggling marine biologist, diving, an underwater mystery, paranormal documentary AND shipwrecks? Yes, pleaase. Adrift is one part mystery and one part drama. While the police investigate Mer, we follow Mer as she investigates the mystery of the haunted ship wreck that inevitably leads us to an unexpected conclusion. Browning sets the stage by creating an “interesting” dynamic between all the members of the paranormal crew as well as bringing in Mer’s shifty ex-boyfriend at just the right time. The reader is suspicious of most of the cast while also being lead along on the dramatic roller coaster that is Mer’s romantic and personal life. Personally, I loved that Browning created a novel filled with suspense and suspicion. The two S’s are interspersed by strong emotive descriptions, intense action scenes and a strong plot. I read this book cover to cover in one night and was left wanting more..thankfully this is book one of the Mer Cacallo Mystery. Most shocking, this is a debut novel that is written as if it were written by an experienced writer (pen name, perhaps?). Browning hits all the stops, breathes life into her stories and yet doesn’t let the plot wither – something that is rare in a new writer. I would definitely recommend Adrift to anyone who loves a good mystery with complex romance or even just a novel that defies expectations on both the skill front and the plot front. I DID NOT SEE THAT ENDING COMING! This book will appeal to readers who enjoy mystery, complex romance, suspense, novels about the ocean and marine biologists who daylight as a safety diver and novels that defy the norm. I would not suggest this novel to those who are looking for a dreary DNF novel because you will be up all night reading this one until the very end.
Adrift is the first in what is sure to be an intense mystery series. Micki Browning introduces marine biologist Mer Cavallo who is caught between science and the supernatural in this thrilling read. When she rescues a drowning diver who claims to have seen a ghost among the ruins of the Spiegel Grove shipwreck, Mer is confronted with a shaken foundation. Could everything she believes about science and the facts of the world be upturned based on one mans claim? She wholeheartedly disbelieves his story until she goes out with a team of ghost hunters as their safety diver. Mer is determined to find out whether she truly saw something out of the ordinary the night of the dive or if there is a logical explanation. Though Mer is a marine biologist, the story isn't necessarily about her knowledge of cephalopods. She throws out some facts about octopuses here and there, but the plot isn't directly linked to marine biology. It saves readers the boredom of having to read through pages of some kind of information dump. Adrift strikes the perfect balance of creepy and intriguing. Then there's a little romance thrown in the mix that adds an element of drama to the plot. Mer is intelligent and it shows in the way she approaches the impossible mystery laid before her. However, she has a hard time maneuvering through social normalcies which makes her more relatable. She may not know how to read emotions in other people, but she sure knows how to solve a mystery. I'm eagerly anticipating the next book in the series, because the way Adrift ends is totally unfair! However, I must admit that the abrupt ending has enhanced my desire for more. *eARC provided in exchange for an honest review*
Ms. Browning cleverly weaves a story that draws you in and keeps you guessing as you read through each chapter. Her background in law enforcement and knowledge of the process that is involved in solving a crime and her deep love of the sea clearly becomes evident. The human side of crime solving is a part of the process that goes beyond just the gathering of facts and Ms. Browning provides an insight into what occurs. Marine biologist Meredith “Mer” Cavallo, the main character, is our guide through the depths of the sea and the mystery of what has occurred. You will enjoy “Adrift” even if you have not been diving but enjoy a very good read. Ms. Browning hooks you and drags you into the world of diving, the paranormal and a search for the truth. I am looking forward to more Mer Cavallo stories. A very large thank you to Micki Browning, Alibi and Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an advanced review copy of this book and allowing me to give you my thoughts on her first novel.
This was a debut novel and, as such, was excellent. The protagonist is a woman with a PhD who is presently working as a dive master. She rescues a diver who claims to have seen a ghost off of a wreck located in the Keys. This causes a number of ghost hunters to start searching for more ghosts. On one trip one disappears and Mer (our protagonist) is blaming herself. Naturally she investigates and the more she does, the more complicated things become. It is a fast and entertaining read and I will read more of the Author's novels. Thanks to Net Galley and Alibi for an ARC for an honest review.
An excellent paranormal mystery, Adrift by Micki Browning, is the beginning of a new Mer Cavallo series. I was always a little off balance as I read this novel. Where exactly was the author taking us with the paranormal aspect? Would it be proven true or part of a well-planned plot? Where would Mer go in her relationship possibilities? Would she choose her enigmatic neighbor or the enervating detective? Browning made this story come to life with her descriptions of the island and the people. One can feel the call the island and sea has on Mer. Indeed, does the sea have a mysterious call, luring certain people to its depths? The people are very well-drawn and there are many relationships introduced that help give varying degrees of flavor, coming together to produce a very tasty work of art. My one caution would be for those who prefer clean language. I would probably rate the book a PG-13 for that. This is the first of the series and I am anxiously awaiting book two. I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher and NetGalley. However, this is my honest, unbiased opinion of the book.
3.5 stars which I rounded up since it is a debut novel. Adrift is the first novel by Micki Browning so I wasn't sure what to expect. What I found was a mystery and that reads more like a suspense thriller. This is not a cozy mystery type of book. It is a standalone (as it's the only book written so far) but does end with a soft cliffhanger for the next book in the series. There is violence. The book blurb adequately describes the storyline so I'm not going to repeat all of that info here. The author did a good job of describing diving in the Florida Keys and the characters. It was well written and better than I expected for a debut novel, even if the storyline was predictable. There are enough clues to keep you guessing to see what twists and turns will be revealed next. I will read more of Micki Browning books and look forward to reading more in the Mer Cavallo series. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and Alibi and chose to leave a review for other readers.
This book has excitement, adventure, suspense and a little romance. Mer Cavallo is an unusual protagonist, a Phd marine biologist between research assignments, working on a dive boat in the Florida keys. She is drawn into the investigation of paranormal activity on an artificial reef. The descriptions of dive and boating action are perfect. A rich variety of characters fill out the cast. The mystery is deep and thrilling as she attempts to find how her diver vanished. I read the book in one day, because I just couldn't put it down. The ending is very satisfying, and sets the stage for more Mer Cavallo stories.