Monday, June 06, 2016

Climate Change Turns Deadly in COLD BLOOD, HOT SEA, Charlene D'Avanzo

New Englanders may not have more certainty than other people about climate change, but if there's something affecting the spread of lobsters along the Maine coast, they want it fixed -- now.

That's not likely to happen. Instead, the wrangling continues on who should do what, and whether there's any need for it. In Charlene D'Avanzo's debut mystery, all that wrangling and, more urgently, all the money and reputations at stake in the climate wars focus on the Maine fishing grounds. Oceanographer Mara Tusconi, whose assets include her PhD in the study of those waters, and whose deficits include terrible seasickness, is being cut out of the research action by her unpleasant boss, who won't direct funding toward her work, even with an intern arriving any day now. Mara quickly decides to recruit the lobstermen/women to her project, creating a much more appealing route toward grant support.

But before she can get things underway, a messy death on the research boat -- probably not an accident, and maybe aimed at her as well -- capsizes her plans. When she starts snooping into a nearby algae farm breeding genetically modified organisms to replace fuel oil, her sense of scientific logic points toward big-money-at-stake fraud.

The "cli fi" (climate fiction) aspect of COLD BLOOD, HOT SEA is clear from the cover (where there's a blurb from climate activist Bill McKibben) and may divide potential readers. But a good traditional mystery is all about the plot and its twists, and D'Avanzo spins a lively and very readable tale of suspense, risk, and high stakes. Mara Tusconi and her friends -- especially Harvina "Harvey" Allison, who's also a researcher, and Mara's white-haired godfather Angelo De Luca -- are warm and likeable. And along with the lobster issues, the research fraud, and the unexpected death on board, Mara's got what might become a huge problem: She's a target of a nasty group of the climate-change doubters, who've hacked her e-mail and are trying to make her look fraudulent, herself.

I particularly enjoyed the final thread that emerged as the mystery deepened: the deaths of Mara's own parents when she was a small child. Seasoned mystery readers may spot the clues before Mara is ready for results (she may be a PhD scientist, but she's only an amateur at sleuthing), while also admiring her pluck and determination to get to the truths of her life.

COLD BLOOD, HOT SEA released June 7 from Torrey House, a Salt Lake City publisher specializing in the environment and the wild outdoors. It's a good pick for their line, and D'Avanzo, who lives in Yarmouth, Maine, clearly knows enough of her science and its frictions to spin a fast-paced story without letting the realistic details drag down the pace.

Here's a sample so you can see firsthand how enjoyable this is:
I let go of the breath I was holding and looked up at Harvey. The hot pink, dangling earphones and wide eyes were too much.

My chortle morphed into a snort, and in seconds I was doubled up on the yoga mat, laughing like a lunatic.

I managed one "Harvey, I'm so sorry" in there somewhere.

... I grabbed a tissue. "But seriously, Harvey, you want to be department head and would be great at it. This is bad for you, and it's my fault."

She shook her head. "I chose to come back." ...

"Guess this shows what I'm doing is risky, at least as far as he's concerned."

"What we're doing, girlfriend. Looks like I'm in it now."

The surge of relief surprised me. I dabbed my eyes once more. "You're one tough babe, Harv."
Pick this one up for a good traditional mystery read, as well as the Maine backdrop, some ocean kayaking, and a taste of the climate wars from the vantage point of the infantry in the labs. Good fun, and thought-provoking, as well.

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