"Every story was different, and they were all, to his ears, improbable. But not like the Grave Descend. That was not merely improbable; it was weird. Even the name of the ship was weird." -- from Grave Descend
Author John Lange is actually the pseudonym of a massively bestselling author whose name you would instantly recognize if I chose to reveal it. Hard Case Crime, seeing the first reprints of Lange's books since their original publications, would like us to respect his privacy, but as we all know, there are no secrets on the Internet, and his identity is only as far away as a single click.
Coincidentally, John Lange was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Grave Descend. The author actually won the Edgar for another novel he wrote around the same time under a different pseudonym. (He has also won one under his own name, but not for a novel.)
Jim McGregor, a diver by occupation, is hired to investigate the sinking of the Grave Descend, a luxury yacht with an unlikely moniker (it's actually a quote from Samuel Johnson, the source of all the epigraphs in the book), off the coast of Jamaica. The main trouble is that McGregor can't seem to get a straight series of events surrounding the sinking -- everyone has a different take on what happened, even where the boat went through customs.
To make things more difficult, the sinking is being kept from the press for 24 hours due to the presence of the boat's single passenger, Monica Grant, who is not only striking beautiful (especially in a bikini) but is also the "good friend" of the boat's married owner, Robert Wayne. McGregor discovers a few other details while involved with this mysterious crew, and begins to piece together a puzzle that's got his name written all over it.
John Lange offers up a straightforward, taut thriller with no frills but more than a little John D. MacDonald in its pedigree. The short chapters and reliance on dialogue make the relatively complicated plot flow easily and quickly toward its conclusion. A slight but entertaining piece of escapism, Grave Descend is likely to pass through your mind without touching much along the way. It's by no means a crime classic, but it's completely engrossing during the reading -- I finished it in just a couple of hours and I don't imagine it took Lange much longer -- there's just not a whole lot of substance. I'm even having trouble coming up with things to say about it, but fans of MacDonald and Richard Stark could do worse than to take a short cruise aboard the Grave Descend. Just watch out for those hammerheads.