Sibling rivalry, murder, and family secrets form the heart of Frank B. Haddleton’s engaging debut, Walker’s Key.
Haddleton draws on his own family’s mysterious past and his obvious love of Florida’s West coast to offer a compelling, fast-paced mystery (think Dennis Lehane), an elegy to a bygone era, and an homage to the seafaring life.
The narrative alternates between Darby Walker’s adulthood in the early 1900s and childhood in the 1860s. As it opens, the adult Darby has learned of his father’s apparent suicide. Darby knows his father wouldn’t kill himself and worries that he himself might be in danger. Thus, he races to uncover the truth.
Meanwhile, the story often returns to his childhood and relationship with his older brother, Tulley. Even before Darby’s birth, Tulley hated his brother, who made his mother sick from “tummy troubles.” As grown-ups, they are opposites: Tulley, a strange loner, who fits in with the tough men living off the unforgiving seas; Darby, a sensitive man, easily hurt.
The story also introduces their grandfather, Nathaniel. Beloved by the community, Nathaniel often regales the townspeople with tales of his adventures helping to free slaves from their plantation owners.
As the novel melds these elements together, it ratchets up the tension. Unfortunately, the momentum is sometimes slowed by stilted dialogue (“I’m sure you remember what your grandfather, my father, did here in Florida many years ago.” “Yes, father, of course I know all about that…”), but Haddleton also delivers insightful exchanges (“You’ve made it clear. The god you worship is the sea. I understand that. Your daily swim is more church than many of my parishioners get”).
Additionally, he offers enchanting descriptions. Writing about the view from the Walker homestead’s front yard, of anchored and sailing boats on the horizon, he notes: “The vessels in the offing appeared small enough to be scooped up in one’s hand.”
All told, Walker’s Key is for fans of nail-biting mysteries, who will find the story’s heart-pounding action hard to resist.
Also available as an ebook.