The Crushing Depths
Given that this book includes some of my favorite story topics — the U.S. Coast Guard, my home state of North Carolina, a mysterious death, and romance — I was eager to dive right in. In fact, The Crushing Depths, the second book in the Coastal Guardians series, interweaves suspenseful action with several romances. I have not read the first book in the series, and considering the number of recurring characters here, I would strongly suggest starting the series from the beginning to fully enjoy this installment.
When a worker on the Dauntless, an oil drilling platform off the coast near Wilmington, North Carolina, dies in a flash fire, the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) sends a team out to the rig. In this case, the team is Rissi Dawson, a CGIS investigator for the past two years, and Mason Rogers, who transferred in from Kodiak, Alaska just three days before. Rissi and Mason have a history that stretches back to childhood when both lived in a foster home run a violent man whose favorite pastime seemed to be beating his charges. Mason and Rissi often protected each other, and the bond of shared experience and deep affection is unbroken even though years have passed. Their reunion is a welcome one, but they do face unpleasant memories mixed with a strong attraction that will now need attention as adults. Flying out to the platform, the CGIS team’s helicopter experiences catastrophic failure and crashes into the ocean, and the survivors are rescued by the crew of an environmental protest boat harassing the Dauntless. In a few hours the team finally arrives on the Dauntless and begins their investigation.
Back on shore, Brooke Kesler, a Coast Guard medic, returns home after a rescue at sea to find a threatening message scrawled in lipstick on her mirror. Shaken, Brooke contacts her best friend Gabby and Gabby’s boyfriend Finn who is a member of the CGIS. Finn processes the scene and calls his boss, Noah Rowley, to take over the investigation and to support Brooke after he and Gabby leave. As the investigation moves forward, Noah, a confirmed bachelor, finds himself attracted to Brooke and begins to change his mind about his single status.
Both investigations – one on the platform, one on shore – continue with suspects and theories considered and discarded. All the while, Rissi and Mason renew their friendship and face feelings they’ve hidden for years, and Noah and Brooke begin to find common ground and a possible way forward in their relationship.
I enjoyed the love stories. The strong bond between Rissi and Mason and learning about their shared experience in an abusive foster home made their reunion poignant and the exploration of their long-hidden feelings satisfying to watch. The romance between Noah and Brooke is a surprise to them both and a sweet journey of awakening that made me care about them and hope for a positive outcome. The author offers a spiritual element in the novel as Mason and Rissi rely on regular prayer for solace and strength. As most of the CGIS members are Christians in the traditional sense, God is a steady presence throughout the story, and the main characters’ beliefs are affirmed by their experiences and supported by fellow believers.
The book is packed with people, scene changes, and investigations, as well as one main romance, one secondary one, and a flirtation or two of note. But with all this going on, the story was sometimes hard to follow. During the first quarter of the book, amidst a flurry of a death, a crash, and a break-in, twenty-six characters are introduced, most of whom will play significant roles in the investigations or the romances. In a situation reminiscent of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, we are given an extensive cast of characters quickly, but here the author does not provide enough specific supporting detail about each one from Rissi or Mason’s viewpoint to crystalize that person as unique. I resorted to creating my own detective ‘murder board’, writing down every name and that person’s job to keep them straight for the entire novel. Hence my initial recommendation to read the first book in the series and have the advantage of knowing the CGIS team before entering embarking upon this story.
Because the action occurs simultaneously at several physical locations on- and off-shore, the author has chosen to use a film-like, scene-hopping structure when the action heats up. This technique can be effective, but I found the transitions were often unclear, so that I would need a sentence or two to recognize the location shift. In addition, the action in one location might be described in as few as five brief sentences, and without a clear transition, it was easy to lose my place in the story and I would have to reread.
It was a relief to find stretches of the narrative that focused on Rissi and Mason or on the investigation into Brooke’s ongoing threats, and these sections are well-written and enjoyable. The author certainly knows Wilmington and the Coast Guard operations there quite well, and descriptions of the platform, ships, break-in and crash are tight with tension and added to the suspense of the story. Nevertheless, both the structure and difficulty keeping characters straight were drawbacks that gave me a bumpy ride.
Without a doubt, fans of Ms. Pettrey will want to read The Crushing Depths, especially because of its role in the series, but I felt the execution of the story fell short, and this may not be the best example of the author’s work.