In Phillip Messinger’s Something in the Blood, two men — one a doctor, the other a ship’s captain — are thrown together during a medical emergency at sea as a hurricane bears down.
The tick-tock urgency is palpable in the opening chapters. With a crew member near death, the cargo ship’s captain is without proper medical supplies and expertise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A risky plan is hatched to have supplies dropped by air and then to try to rendezvous with a cruise ship, hours away, so its crew physician can be whisked onboard to perform a lifesaving operation. Meanwhile, Hurricane Iniki, a real storm that devastated Hawaii in 1992, is gathering strength.
Messinger’s short novel hints at something more profound than a mere sea adventure, as the sea captain and doctor wrestle with the road not taken, despite their accomplishments. Chris, the captain, had once wanted to be a doctor but abandoned the dream. The doctor, Jonathan, had once romanticized a life on the ocean but now finds himself dissatisfied with his compromise as a cruise ship physician. Watching the other in action, both must face personal reckonings.
The ingredients exist for a top-notch allegory. Messinger’s writing is engaging as the fast-paced action unfolds. His strength is in the authenticity of detail, no doubt from his own background as a ship’s captain. (According to the introduction, the story is based on actual events.)
The weakness, though, is in character development. To set up parallels and contrasts between the men, readers need to know much more about both characters. There are glimpses of Chris’s larger struggle as he muses about “that alternative path.” But there’s not enough understanding of what haunts him and how it has shaped his life both on land and at sea. Jonathan’s backstory is even more unclear.
Nonetheless, Something in the Blood is a highly readable yarn, even if it misses the mark as something more impactful.
Also available as an ebook.