Stephen Schwandt

JP Griffen - Ex-High School English Teacher, Amateur Sleuth

"Siren Song"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark SEP 16, 2004)

“All yours, if you want ‘em. We’re selling this one ‘as is.’ So if you find a treasure map or diamond ring, it’s just my tough luck. And looking around, there seem to be some useful accessories onboard,” Kriel added.

Siren Song by Stephen Schwandt

JP Griffin's marriage is failed and he has had it with teaching, or, as he laments, “pretending to teach.” It’s Friday, school is nearly done for the year and it has been a particularly rough day. He flies out of school, jumps in his aging Jeep Wrangler and heads not for his dinky apartment but east, straight to Door County Peninsula, Wisconsin. He has $100 cash in his pocket, no toothbrush, no luggage – basically traveling like a refugee. Six hours later he is on the Michigan shore, close to where he was born and raised, but that’s not where he’s headed.

As he’s about to cross the 120-foot-high, four-lane, mile-long Tower Drive Bridge, fog sets in drifting off Lake Michigan. Just before the crest of the bridge, a sedan barrels toward him, close to the center line; then a police cruiser with flashing lights -- the fog lifts just a moment and he eerily makes eye contact with the officer as he passes. Next he sees a light-colored pickup truck in pursuit. Finally, there is a huge semi-truck.

An hour later he arrives at the outskirts of Sturgeon Bay his ultimate goal. At the Wayfarer Inn, he takes a room and inquires about the best marina to find boats for sale. JP Griffin has a plan. He's going to put in for an unpaid leave, buy a boat and to move on it for an endless summer of cruising. A alluring fantasy passed to him by his dad, and thus he feels it is appropriate that he plans to use his inheritance money to fund this dream.

The next morning, while eating his breakfast, he reads an article reporting that Police Officer Charles J. Parnell plunged off the Tower Drive Bridge while driving in the fog, apparently exactly shoved off my the semi-truck. He’s positive that this is the same officer that he passed in the fog on which he had the startled eye contact with. But the newspaper story seems to have it all wrong. Not wanting to interrupt the purpose of this spontaneous trip, he decides to not get directly involved, but does make an anonymous phone call to the dispatcher to tell what he saw.

As recommended at the motel, he hooks up with Wally Kriel at the marina. After sorting out price range, JP leaves with Kriel promising to call during the week because he believes he’ll have a boat for him in his price range soon. And he does. JP, a naive, but motivated buyer is anxious to start his new life. Without hesitation, he wants to buy this 26-foot Bayliner Ciera being sold by a widow in Texas who is liquidating assets to pay medical bills.

The boat is perfect – all set up for the novice cruiser, including a cruising guide to Door County. Even the name, Siren Song, is fitting. But Wally Kriel suggests that he spend one night on board before he buys. That night, poking around the boat to see what was left behind, JP finds a cassette. He listens to it. It is seems to be a police interrogation. Curious. He also finds a complete set of John D. MacDonalds's Travis McGee series, which is just perfect for some light boat reading. The next morning, hesitant as to what to do next while waiting for Kriel to return to the marina, he decides to pick up provisions and do some sight seeing. When he returns to Siren Song, he sees that it is being detailed, even though that was not part of agreement; to save money he was going to do it himself. Later, he discovers that the tape is missing.

Day three of living aboard and several hours of on-site instruction from Kriel, he finally gets to see the bill of sale. He is shocked at whom the previous owner had been, but no less motivated; he signs. And so begins a very unexpected venture in which Travis McGee becomes his mentor. Like Travis, JP Griffin finds himself in the “salvage” business as he tries to learn the dark secrets of Officer Parnell’s life and the uncanny coincidences that the two men share.

JP Griffin is an unlikely hero and Door County Peninsula is an interesting setting. Normally I tend toward salt water sailboat adventures. But this works. I am just as sympathetic to Griffins desire to want to be a live aboard; not that JP manages to get very far along in his plans. Certainly living in the shadow of Officer Parnell might not be the best way to enjoy a sabbatical and hooking up with the Officer's ex-wife, whether intentional or not is another questionable move, which adds tension for the reader. It's clear that he is not the only one lured by the lore of Officer Parnell's treasure; but for JP it goes beyond the money, he needs to know if Officer Parnell was a good cop or not. This is an entertaining read, with lots of twists, unexpected action and a rewarding ending. Almost as good as a Travis McGee novel.

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About the Author:

Stephen Schwandt is the author of five award-winning young-adult novels. Guilt Trip was a finalist for the 1991 Edgar Allan Poe Award. He is a full-time high school literature and composition teach. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and on Washington Island, Wisconsin. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014