I’ve never met Micki Browning in person, but I did see her step off an elevator at the Malice Domestic Book Conference in Maryland. Does that count? Even at a distance, she is as lovely as her author photograph. We are as different as people could be since she lives in Florida, is a certified divemaster, and lugs huge canisters around like they are nothing. I live in the Midwest with an obvious lack of oceans, can’t swim, and have trouble hauling forty-pound softener salt bags into my house. However, we both love historical research, and she hooked me!
When her first mystery, Adrift, came out, I read it because it had a great cover and sounded intriguing. And it was. Her debut novel in 2017, Adrift, won the Royal Palm Award and the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence. Browning used her background well because she combined knowledge from her career in law enforcement with her love of diving, and she wrote a suspenseful story with twists and turns. I had trouble putting it down.
Simply the premise of diving at night in total darkness and a ghostly wreck called USS Spiegel Grove, made the plot idea exciting. Being underwater in inky blackness with who-knows-what swimming around you is enough to keep me up at night.
Meredith (Mer) Cavallo, a marine biologist who is an expert on octopuses, is the protagonist. She is smart, skeptical, and approaches problems using scientific logic. Early in the story, she rescues an amateur diver from drowning. He thought he saw a ghostly presence near the wreck.
The local television station comes after her. Social media takes off.
Enter a group of ghost hunters, hoping to capitalize on the supernatural element. When the leader of the group, Ishmael, disappears during a dive, Mer finds herself in trouble with a local detective. The disappearance of Ishmael and the consequential social media explosion lead Mer to investigate the situation. Add a group of intriguing and colorful secondary characters, and Browning has an amazing story.
Her debut was recently followed by her second book, Beached. I must say that this book is even better, and the pacing is nonstop. The secondary characters are deftly drawn, and the historical research is terrific. Who doesn’t like legends of a ghostly galleon, buried treasure, modern-day pirates, and drug smuggling? This book has it all.
The reader is hooked immediately when Dr. Mer is out on a dive in the Luna Sea with her funny captain friend, Leroy Penninichols, and they find a “square grouper” floating in the ocean. It is a bale of cocaine containing a sheet of names, a 1733 King Phillip V coin, and a GPS tracker. That last item brings the pirates after the Luna Sea in an opening chase scene that is terrific. It also sets up the plot conflict since the coin is connected to a legend about the Thirteenth Galleon, a lost Spanish ship with a curse on it.
Add a mysterious Cuban historian, two suspicious detectives, a stolen wallet, a sinister person tailing Mer, a break-in at her house, stiletto high heels, modern-day pirates who are after the same treasure as Mer, shots ringing out, and the story is nonstop excitement.
Browning is an expert when it comes to describing the equipment Mer needs for diving and dredging, and the safety rules she follows. Browning’s background in diving has served her well in both Mer Cavallo stories. Her knowledge of this is smoothly worked into her plots, never pulling the reader out of the stories. Her secondary characters are colorful, especially the crusty old sea captain who runs a bar and won’t give Mer information unless she drinks a shot with each question. Mer also has a romantic interest in Selkie, her boyfriend, another mysterious man who leaves at strategic moments to pursue secret work for the government.
Non-swimmer that I am, I really enjoyed both books. I’d highly recommend them, but read them in daylight.
Micki Browning, originally a California transplant, spent a career in law enforcement. She also graduated from the FBI National Academy at Quantico. After other stops along the way, she moved to South Florida, trading earthquakes for hurricanes. There, she became a professional divemaster. You can read more about Micki and her books at www.mickibrowning.com, and get her books at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.