Down Among the Dead Men by Claire Baxter

Down Among the Dead Men by Claire BaxterDown Among the Dead Men by Claire Baxter
Published by Entangled Publishing on July 14th 2014
Pages: 250
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Caitlyn needs to find her estranged father or her mother will be thrown out of the home she loves, so Caitlyn ventures into the rough, tough world of the Australian opal fields. After rescuing a teenager from an attempted assault she learns that the girl, Max, is her half-sister. Their father is missing and suspected of stealing opals – an activity that could place both Max and Caitlyn in danger. Attempting to locate their father without alerting the police, Caitlyn enlists the help of Dale, a city lawyer turned lapidary, hiding out in the town to protect his daughter from death threats. Together they investigate, but progress is slow until Caitlyn stumbles upon a link between her father and organised crime, and into an investigation by the Federal Police.
After offering herself as the go-between in a ‘sting’, Caitlyn realises that she’s put Dale’s life at risk and in order to save him, she does the one thing she’s sworn never to do. She battles crippling claustrophobia to descend into the darkness of an underground opal mine where her father’s dead body is lying. With the criminals either arrested or dead, Caitlyn accepts that she’s found more than she went looking for. She’s fallen in love with Dale, but there’s no way he’d consider moving back to the city, not when a move would expose his daughter to danger. He doesn’t ask her to stay so she makes a new life for herself and her sister in Adelaide...until the death of the man threatening his family allows Dale to confess his feelings for her.

Caitlyn’s journey down into the south of Australia in search of her father brings her several unexpected surprises and not all of them are welcome. Soon, it becomes clear that Wally – the father whom she hasn’t seen in 2 decades – has not only stashed another family of his away on the side, but is involved in shady, criminal activities that have led to having both the thugs and the federal police on his tail. And it isn’t much longer before she’s entangled in a situation that’s deeper than she could ever fathom being in.

It occurred to me halfway through that I was reading a romantic suspense story built around the famous phrase ‘Where’s Wally?’. That was a pleasant moment of amusement before I was sucked back into the rather intriguing search for a criminal that involved a professional chef, a lapidary and a whole cast of small mining towns people.

The sheer strangeness of the environment and the unusual setting of a fictional opal mining town in South Australia kept my interest in the story throughout and the direct and prosaic prose Clair Baxter employs here certainly functions well. Starting out slowly, the story unfurls quickly as the action starts rolling in, although the romance is more an afterthought than the main plot here.