Roger and Suzanne take a vacation cruise through the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles west of Ecuador. Suzanne finds a dead body floating with a couple of bullet holes in its back floating in the Pacific Ocean and we’re off to solve another deadly mystery. Among the suspects is a treacherous travel agent with an eye-opening secret, a cheerful couple of bird watchers from Germany, a happy honeymooning couple, two sensual sisters from San Francisco, two recent retirees from Australia working through their bucket list, and two middle-aged Montevideo residents seeing the wonders of the world while they can. Lurking in the background behind the scenes is a mysterious Ecuadorian general. One reviewer says, “A fast-paced, exciting mystery I didn’t want to set aside till finished… A great continuation of the series!”
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Rediscovering my wife’s journal from our own tour of the Galapagos Islands a few years ago. It gave me most of the background material I needed to write this novel.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The book is part of a series. The main characters are old friends for me and series readers.
The crewmember tending the outboard engine on the rubberized Zodiac craft picked up a dozen tourists and our guide from the lowest deck, which was just a short step above the ocean level of the cruise ship. The Zodiac ran as a shuttle service between our large cruise ship and whichever island we would be visiting that morning or afternoon. With more than 100 passengers on the cruise ship, the Zodiac driver kept busy ferrying groups of about a dozen each trip to and from the islands.
The outboard motor was large and powerful, the Zodiac itself was pretty light, and the sea was calm, so our trip of about 500 meters to the beach landing should have taken us less than 10 minutes. This particular trip took a lot longer since we had to stop and pick up the dead body that Barbara Kaufman and Suzanne spotted floating face down in the Pacific Ocean less than 100 meters from the beach.
As our rubberized ferry chugged towards our planned wet landing just off of the white coralline beach of Darwin Bay, Barbara Kaufman was enjoying the close-up view of the ocean alongside the starboard side of our boat. The water was quite cold and quite clear, so it was easy to see to the bottom where all sorts of sea life were hanging out. “Slow down!” she hollered in Spanish to our driver in the back of the boat. “There’s something big floating in the water over there, about 50 meters out that way,” she continued, speaking to the boat driver in Spanish, pointing towards a shape in the ocean.
I was surprised at Barbara’s fluent and almost native Spanish. When we first met in Quito, both of the Kaufman sisters had given us the impression that they had minimal survival skills in Spanish, but not much more language proficiency than restaurant menu items and bar drinks. Maybe some of the helpless tourist pose both of the sisters affected was geared to attracting macho males on this trip, rather than indicating the real thing. In any case, it was hard to make fun of the obvious ploy since it certainly seemed to be working with Raul Vonhorst.
“It looks like a human body to me,” added Suzanne, who was sitting right next to Barbara towards the front of the boat. I should mention Suzanne’s peculiar knack for discovering dead bodies, either when she was with me or on her own. This was her first Ecuadorian corpse as far as I knew, to join the ranks of previous Paraguayan, Uruguayan, and Bolivian bodies she had discovered in Montevideo, Uruguay and Los Angeles. It was a very good bet that if the thing in the water looked like a human body to Suzanne, we had a mysterious murder victim floating in the Pacific Ocean near our boat.
The driver slowed the boat and did a wide turn to bring the port side of the Zodiac alongside the shape. He shifted to neutral gear alongside the body and asked Bruce and me to pull the body into the boat as carefully as we could. Bruce, who was sitting alongside me, handed Robert to Suzanne to hold as well as she could given the bulky infant-sized life jacket with M/S Santa Cruz stamped on it Robert was wearing. Bruce took the bottom and I took the top as we heaved the body over the low side of the Zodiac and onto the floor of the craft. In a few seconds the lifeless body lay inelegantly in a broadening puddle of water in the bow of the Zodiac while most of the passengers scampered towards the stern as if they might get infected with dead-person germs by proximity to the inert corpse.
The deceased was wearing jeans and a dark blue woolen sweater with a crew neck. As we pulled it up into the boat, it became obvious that the body was that of a woman with long dark hair who was probably in her mid- to late-thirties. She had a pretty face and a well cared for body in pretty good shape. Several of the passengers recognized her as having been one of the tourists on our cruise ship.
One of the passengers, a chubby middle-aged man named Howard, spoke up. “Oh my God! Is she dead? This is horrible! That woman ate dinner with us at our table last night. She was by herself. We assumed she was traveling alone. She didn’t say very much. We tried to get her to tell us about herself. I don’t remember her name. Oh my goodness.”
His wife Cora, a skinny counterpoint to the pudgy Howard, confirmed this recollection, turning to the crewmember at the engine to add, “Oh, good Lord! I think she’s dead, señor. Her name is Rita something. She was from New York. This was her first trip to South America. She wanted to see the birds and animals. Rita had a copy of ‘The Origin of Species’ with her at the table. I think she planned to be on the first boat leaving the cruise ship every morning. She couldn’t wait to see all of the different kinds of birds and animals she’d been reading about that inspired Darwin to come up with his theory of evolution. Oh Lordy, this is just terrible!”
The body hadn’t been in the water very long, since there weren’t any signs of damage by hungry sea creatures or by collisions with floating flotsam or jetsam. At this latitude and longitude the ocean was surprisingly cold considering that the Galapagos Islands are almost exactly on the Equator, with water temperatures of 70-77 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the season. Given how cold the water was, it would take a forensic pathologist to estimate how long the body had been in the water, how far the body could have drifted given the prevailing currents, and when Rita had been murdered.
The boat driver asked me to check the body for I.D. Her pockets were empty and she wasn’t carrying a money belt or other kind of pouch in which she could have kept a passport or other I.D. I could, however, guess that the cause of death was acute lead poisoning since two bullet holes were clearly visible in the back of her sweater. The Zodiac swung around to return us with our additional cargo to the mother ship. As we motored back to the larger ship, the driver spoke into his walkie-talkie in a voice too low to be heard by the passengers.
The captain and first mate, plus two other sailors from the crew, were waiting for us when we got back to the M/S Santa Cruz. Rita’s body was transferred to a waiting blanket while the first mate recorded the name of each passenger in the Zodiac. Then we were released and the Zodiac once again motored us to the island, this time landing successfully in the knee-deep water just off the beach. Our guide assembled us into a group, reminded us about essential tourist etiquette in the Galapagos—follow the guide, stay together, stay on the marked paths—-and off we went to study nature.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. We should start this story at the beginning, in Los Angeles, when Suzanne originally had the idea of all of us taking this particular vacation——-
The author is a Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of California’s Medical School at Davis, near Sacramento in Northern California. Jerry writes “tweener” mystery books (hard boiled stories that follow the cozy conventions of no graphic sex and no cussing) that are fast moving and entertain the reader, while introducing the readers to a region where he has lived and worked that is a long way from home for most English speakers. He and his wife lived previously in Salta, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay for several months each. Jerry selected the most interesting South American locations he found for Roger and Suzanne to visit while solving the miscellaneous murders. Montevideo, Salta, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, and Iguazu Falls are characters in these books, and the novels portray these places as vivid and real. Jerry and his wife Elaine breed prize-winning German Shorthaired Pointer dogs; Elaine also provides technical advice for Jerry’s novels like The Deadly Dog Show and editing for all of the books.
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