Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The White Sea: Paul Johnston

From the summary at Goodreads:
    Wealthy ship-owner Kostas Gatsos has been missing for several weeks, having been snatched from his luxury villa on the idyllic island of Lesvos. Curiously, there has been no ransom demand. When the police investigation stalls, the desperate Gatsos family turn to private investigator Alex Mavros for help.
    Inherently suspicious of the super-rich and initially reluctant to take on the case, Mavros finds himself dealing with a highly dysfunctional family with more than a few skeletons in its closet, a family whose tentacles have a surprisingly wide reach.
This book is the seventh in a series of novels about Alex Mavros, who is a finder of missing people.   Taking an unusual step for me, I decided to read this book in the series when I had read none of the previous novels.  I was influenced by having read Sarah's positive review of The Black Life at her crimepieces blog. She mentioned that there were big changes at the end of book 6 and thought that the series and the protagonist could be taking a different direction in the next book. I thought I might be able to pick this book up and read it as a standalone book, without the other books for background. I did find that to be true for the most part.

I did not see much depth in the characterizations in this novel, and I am wondering whether this is because the author is relying on the reader's familiarity with some of the characters and not repeating back stories with each book. This is a good thing, but in some cases I felt like I was missing something. However, the basic story, which I would classify as an adventure, was interesting and moved very fast. I like good pacing in a book.

Mavros is an appealing character because he is loyal to his family and friends.  And they care about him. Few characters in this book are perfect, but each is unique and interesting, including the bad guys. This book takes up Alex's story five years after the end of the previous book, and he has been working for the family publishing business in the meantime. In order to pick up his previous occupation of looking for missing persons, he seeks out his old friend Yiorgos Pandazopoulos, who has aided in previous investigations.

There are several subplots that will all come together in some way in the end. The author keeps us guessing. I liked the way the ending was handled. It may have been too pat, too easy, but it also did not have an extended period where the protagonist and significant others are in danger. I have never liked that approach to ending thrillers.

The author has lived in Greece and put his experience there to good use when writing this book. He also "worked in shipping in London, Antwerp and Piraeus". See this page at his web site for an overview of the book. Having read a bit more about the earlier six books in the series, I think I would like to go back to them. I consider this a compliment to the author. At the author's website you will also find information about his two other series, both of which sound interesting to me.

Paul Johnston was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Thus this book counts for the Read Scotland challenge at Peggy Ann's Post. He has lived in Greece and is married to Roula, a Greek civil servant. He still divides his time between Scotland and Greece.


Publisher:   Severn House, 2014
Length:       289 pages
Format:       ebook
Series:        Alex Mavros, #7
Setting:       Greece
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       Provided by the publisher via NetGalley.


Clothes In Books said...

So many series I haven't even started on! I do like the idea of a Greek setting (which is something that particularly appeals to Sarah of course) but probably won't get round to this one in the very near future....

w said...

OK, I thought I had heard of Johnston before from Sarah's blog. I think I have one of his books. Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - Thanks for reminding me of this series. I need to get familiar with it, so I'm glad you've highlighted this book. You bring up an interesting point too about character depth. I think it's a delicate balance for an author to continue to add layers and depths to a character as a series goes on, and at the same time welcome new readers.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, thank you for writing about this author and series. I have zero knowledge about series novels. Like you in this instance, I have read the odd book out of a series.

TracyK said...

Moira, the pull for me was the Greek setting. And the fact that he was a Scottish author. The protagonist is half Scottish, half Greek but I did not feel that it made that much difference in this novel, so I did not mention it. Not really my usual kind of mystery, but I liked it.

TracyK said...

I will definitely be interested to hear what you think of Johnston's book, if you read one, Keishon. This was a different kind of read for me, and it kept me entertained.

TracyK said...

Margot, if I ever have time, I hope to read some of his earlier books and compare them.

TracyK said...

Prashant, While I was reading this book, and while I was writing the review, I thought of you. I mentioned that it is more of an adventure story, in my opinion, and I think you like those. It was a mystery too, but more adventurous than what I usually read.

col2910 said...

I think I have a couple of his books from his other series. I'll probably steer clear of this one for a variety of reasons ....lack of time, lack of space, etc. Probably a fair few other books on the wish-list well ahead of it.

TracyK said...

I understand, Col, I don't want to add any books or authors for a while. But it is a hard goal to stick to.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Thanks TracyK - must admit, it does sound like the characters are all a bit generic so I don't know how much this would appeal, though maybe it is a question of starting earlier in the series? Glad to hear the plot is solid - that does go a long way!

TracyK said...

I did wonder the same thing, Sergio, about the earlier books and how the characters are developed there. The book did keep me interested and entertained, which is important, but there wasn't much depth. I think each book (in this series) also covers a topic specific to Greece and has good information about the country, so that may be a plus overall. I will have to try another one.