Book Review: A Time to Swill by Sherry Harris
A Time to Swill by bestselling author Sherry Harris is the second book in her new Chloe Jackson, Sea Glass Saloon Mystery series, where an abandoned ship with a skeleton aboard reopens a decade-old missing persons case that bartender sleuth Chloe must suss out before more violence befalls her idyllic Florida town of Emerald Cove.
This exciting second installment of the Chloe Jackson, Sea Glass Saloon Mystery series finds our intrepid heroine out for a mind-clearing run one morning on the beach near her Emerald Cove, Florida, home. Ironically, the fog that’s rolled in off the gulf has obscured most of her vision but lifts just enough for her to see what looks like an abandoned ship in the shallows. She immediately calls in the floundering ship to the local authorities who tell her to stay put to help them track the location. When she hears what she thinks is the sound of a crying baby on board, however, she doesn’t hesitate to swim out to rescue whoever might be in peril, accidentally losing her phone in the process.
Turns out that the crying was coming from a cat, but Chloe decides to check out the rest of the ship in case any people are also aboard and need assistance. To her horror, she discovers a human skeleton in one of the cabins. Even worse, the ship gets dislodged from the sandbar it was beached on and starts rapidly heading back out to sea.
Close up, the ship is in even worse shape than Chloe expected. When she finally gets the generator up and running enough to power communications and contact the Coast Guard, disaster strikes again.
“There’s a dead body. I think it’s a woman. And I’m not an expert, but I’d say she’s been dead a while.” […] My nose itched and I turned. Smoke tendrils were curling up out of the hatch where the generator was. A belch of smoke rose as my eyebrows lifted in alarm. I whirled back to the radio.
“Mayday. The boat’s on fire. Abandoning ship.”
I picked up the cat and raced up the stairs onto the deck, I heard a whunk, and flames shot up and out. I had no time to look for a lifeboat or life jacket. Flames chased us.
“Sorry about this,” I said to the cat. I took a running start and leaped.
And that’s only the beginning of Chloe’s latest adventures as she settles into life as the half-owner of the Sea Glass Saloon, bequeathed to her along with a house and a boat by her best friend, Boone, sadly departed far too soon. After she’s rescued from the waters, she discovers that the Good Samaritan who ferried her and the cat back to shore seems to be a ghost. Of even greater concern is the fact that the few items she managed to salvage from the ship point to the skeleton belonging to Raquel Harrison, the former wife of Chloe’s good friend Ralph.
Over a decade back, Raquel had gone with several friends for what they thought would be a quick afternoon sail. They never came back. The ship and its passengers had disappeared as if they’d slipped into the Bermuda Triangle. Ralph and his current wife, Delores, were considered persons of interest in the disappearance, both at the time and seven years later when Ralph petitioned to have Raquel declared legally dead. Chloe’s discovery reopens the case and puts Ralph under suspicion once again. Chloe knows Ralph wouldn’t hurt a fly, but the more she looks into the matter, the more she discovers that not everyone in her idyllic seaside community is to be trusted.
First and foremost among those is Steve Kincheloe, Boone’s deadbeat dad. An ill wind has blown him back into town with a claim on her house that upends Chloe’s entire world.
He looked at me like he pitied me. “Of course [your house is] not for sale. Boone left the place to me, along with his boat and half the Sea Glass.” Steve took a step closer to me.
“Boone would never do that.” I held my ground as I had in the Sea Glass, even though inside I was wavering more than the sea oats in a stiff breeze. “You were nothing to him. A sperm donor at best. A negligent, absent father at worst. He left everything to me.” I almost clapped my hands to my mouth. I wasn’t usually mean.
Chloe will find herself doing a lot of unusual things as she fights to keep her legacy from being stolen out from under her while seeking to clear Ralph’s name and find her rescuer in the process. It’s also great to see her team up with Vivi and Anne, two of Emerald Cove’s most formidable women, to put a stop to the various villains plaguing their community and to ensure that justice is served.
I really enjoyed the many acts of derring-do that had A Time to Swill feel less like a cozy than a more traditional tale of detection, with Chloe almost like a grown-up Nancy Drew. Like her teenage predecessor, Chloe is a terrific heroine: realistic, relatable, and brave. She might sometimes lose her temper and take risks, but she always feels like a real person rather than just a character doing silly or reckless things in order to advance the plot. I can’t wait to read more of her exploits, especially with the lovely way this novel ended, capping a rousing tale of adventure with just the perfect amount of romance.