Fresh Meat: Devil’s Harbor by Alex Gilly

Devil's Harbor by Alex Gilly follows Nick Finn, a California Customs and Border agent wrongly accused of murdering his partner forced to evade capture while attempting to prove his innocence (available June 23, 2015).

Brutal, real, sweaty, and scary, with the power of the sea roiling just below the surface, Devil’s Harbor is a frightening place to visit. Finn is no imaginary alcoholic. His marriage is in need of more than a quick tune-up. His brother-in-law won’t be strolling into a family dinner with his two boisterous dogs at his side any time soon. Throughout the story, Finn examines and explores long buried childhood memories. Finn is no over-the-top, overboard drunk though: with all his demons perched on this shoulder, he still has the persistence and drive to unravel a puzzling, vicious criminal operation and restore a daughter to a mother’s side. But it’s not for the faint-of-heart.

The tension ratchets up right away. Finn senses something is out of the ordinary in the smuggling vessel he and his partner are attempting to board.

Still no one appeared from the cabin. That disturbed him. Almost all the traffickers he intercepted, when they realized there was no way out, turned meek—especially if their boats were about to sink or catch fire. Usually what they did was show themselves, put their hands in the air, make it clear that they were unarmed and surrendering. Most of them knew they were just going to get shipped home anyway.

Finn sensed that this guy was different. There was something all-or-nothing about this guy.

Finn kills the smuggler and he believes he made a righteous kill, but he may be the only one who thinks that. He loses his job, his wife, and his white-knuckled sobriety. Alex Gilly shows, not tells, how deep a grip alcohol has Finn’s life. He has conversations with the voices in his head. He makes scary, impulsive decisions. What he won’t admit, although it’s so clear to onlookers, is that he drinks to blot out tragedy and the unhealed wounds of his past. Finn fears he’s becoming his father. Looking into a mirror:

Finn saw his father staring back at him: the same deserting blue eyes and liquor-distended skin, the same thin mouth curled in disappointment.

Water dripped off his body and pooled on the tiles around his feet. His father had been caught smuggling narcotics into Long Beach. Finn thought, Like father, like son.

The sea is presented as a place where healing happens. It’s bigger than anything happening on land. Finn may have been forced to undertake a perilously illegal journey, but there’s more happening. He acknowledges to himself that the “sea was having its tonic effect.”

Finn wasn’t a religious man in the conventional sense, but at sea he felt part of a natural order that vanished the moment he set foot ashore.

Thus, on the morning of their second day at sea, as he stood on the Pacific Belle’s stern and kept his eye on where his fishing line disappeared into the water, his CBP jacket zipped up against the chill, and the eastern horizon the color of rust, it seemed to him that this private disk of ocean, this moveable and sequestered world, was his reward for the resolution he’d made when he left the San Pedro dock.

Finn ponders philosophical questions while he shepherds the Pacific Belle to Mexico like what people have status, who are the true criminals? This is what his wife, Mona, deals with all the time in her role as lawyer and advocate. But instead of listening to Mona’s voice, Finn drowns it with Mexican beer and tequila during a Day of the Dead celebration. He gets drunk, sleeps with Linda and is going straight to Hell on the fast track program. Did it even mean anything? Finn and Linda miraculously escape, only to slam into a vicious storm. It’s almost biblical.

. . . the cloud mass was on a cosmic scale—the the annihilating face of a hammer belonging to some merciless, Aztec god. Hailstones the size of baseballs. “He thought of Mona, of never seeing her again. He thought of his father, of seeing him soon.

The underlying question of Devil’s Harbor is whether Finn will get what he wants, what he craves, and the only thing that will bring him peace. During his gut-wrenching reflections on the Pacific Belle, during his perilous voyage with Linda Blake, Finn admits that “all he needed to restore clarity and grace to his life was firmness of purpose.” There are echoes of Linda Howard’s unforgettable Cry No More in Devil’s Harbor—another story of mystery and the aching power of familial love—and the thin line between justice and the law. With heart-stopping thrills and a Walter White–esque villain, Devil’s Harbor, one hero’s journey into his personal heart of darkness, will keep you turning the pages late into the night.

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Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!

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