This is the third mystery by Allen to feature ship detectives George Porter Dillman, (trained by the Pinkertons no less) and Genevieve Masefield, (who joined Dillman’s team after meeting him on the Lusitania). Normally they have been working on ships run by Cunard Line, which go across the Atlantic. In this story though there is a change of scene, with Dillman and Masefield taking a sleuthing job aboard the Minnesota, which crosses the Pacific to China, via Japan. Their mission at the beginning of the story is to uncover the smuggling plans of well-known but never convicted crook, Rance Gilpatrick. Gilpatrick is not a nice man to cross, so our sleuthing duo have to tread with caution. However, their own plans are altered when a couple of days into the journey there’s murder. The choice of victim, Father Liam Slattery, is unexpected in some ways, as Masefield and Dillman are perplexed as to why Gilpatrick could have ordered this death, but on the other hand for the reader Slattery’s death is not so surprising, given how unpopular he makes himself during the voyage with all and sundry.
Given that the story takes place in 1908, the means of finding evidence and clues is much less CSI, and much more via expert conversational skills. One feels Poirot would approve. Working separately Dillman and Masefield quickly make new friends, though of course the reader is suitably suspicious of them, knowing at least some of them must be too good to be true – but which ones are they? From the social side of things and how characters interact with each other, this is an entertaining novel, though it does recourse to some stock in trade admirers for Masefield. There is also the will they? won’t they? thing going on between Dillman and her as well. However, I think what prevented this from being a really good read was the lack of mystery for the reader to solve. From the outset we know Gilpatrick has to be up to something, it’s just a matter of proving it and in regards to the other mysteries on the ship, there aren’t a lot of overt clues for the reader to follow up on. It is a case of using your reader instinct to pick who the guilty parties are. I would also say that the expected jeopardy near the end of the story felt rather muted and unconvincing. But to end on a more positive note I think Allen does a very good job at recreating his early 20th century setting, without info dumping on his readers. So, if you don’t mind your mystery stories rather light, this is definitely a very readable and fun yarn.