Edition: Collins, 1957
Review number: 645
An early Hammond Innes - maybe even his first - thriller, The Wreck of the Mary Deare is evocative of the seafaring life which is central to so many of his novels. It begins in the small boat Sea Witch, crossing the Channel to be refitted as a salvage vessel. Suddenly, out of the dark, stormy sea, they are almost run down by a far larger, apparently abandoned, ship, the Mary Deare. Meeting up with it again later (surely an unlikely coincidence), the co-owner of the Sea Witch and narrator of the novel boards her, and finds only one man aboard, its captain, who insists that they run the ship aground on rocks to the south of the Channel Islands. The reason for this becomes clear in the second part of the novel, at an enquiry into the ship's fate in which it begins to look as though the Mary Deare was intended to sink supposedly carrying a valuable cargo that had been transferred elsewhere, for the purposes of a fraudulent insurance claim by the ship's owners.
This middle section is distinctly unconvincing, the court simply swallowing the flimsy statements of the shipping company's lawyers. The final section amounts to a race to return to the ship, to either reveal or destroy the evidence of the fraud, and this too is rather unlikely - would it really be permitted for the interested parties in the case to reboard the ship with no other witnesses?
Occasionally chillingly atmospheric - the Marie Celeste-like first appearance of the Mary Deare is the best scene in the novel by far - The Wreck of the Mary Deare is generally slackly put together. The plot is stretched to far to allow Innes to fit in more action scenes; these may be exciting, but are not good enough to excuse or hide the novel's problems.