The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes

Worse things happen at sea…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

The little sailing boat Sea Witch is crossing the Channel one night, when suddenly a large ship looms out of the darkness and nearly rams her. The crew of the Sea Witch are planning to start a new business venture as salvagers and when they realise the ship may have been abandoned the skipper, John Sands, who is also our narrator, sees this as a possible salvage opportunity. So despite the fact that a storm is approaching, he decides to board the ship, the Mary Deare, to see whether they can bring it to harbour. But when he gets aboard, he finds the badly damaged ship is not completely abandoned – its captain, Gideon Patch, is there, exhausted and drunk and on the point of giving up hope. The storm hits, and Sands is unable to get back to the Sea Witch, so he and Patch are left to try to prevent the Mary Deare from sinking before help arrives. But what has caused the damage to the Mary Deare? And why has her crew, all but Patch, abandoned her? Sands finds himself caught up in a mystery as well as an adventure…

Hammond Innes was a big name in adventure writing in the last century, with a long career spanning from the 1930s to the 1990s. I’m sure I probably read some in my youth, but if so they’ve long faded from my mind. This one dates from 1956. The entire plot involves sailing – both big and small ships – and is full of nautical terminology and information about sea conditions, tides, and so on. Innes was apparently a keen sailor himself and clearly knows his stuff, and has the happy knack of not dumbing his knowledge down but still managing to keep the unknowledgable reader, like me, following in his wake. The story takes place mostly in the Minquiers, a cluster of reefs, rocks and tiny islets off the shores of the Channel Islands.

The story is divided into three parts, roughly speaking, with the first and last being adventures on the sea and aboard the Mary Deare, while the middle section involves the official court inquiry into what happened aboard. The adventures are exciting, though I did wonder if even strong experienced men could really have survived some of the physical ordeals Hammond puts them through.

The court case is what gives the adventure its plot. The Mary Deare has had a run of bad luck, firstly with the captain dying unexpectedly, so that Patch, who had only joined the ship in its last port, is thrust into the role of captain. A man is missing, a representative of the ship’s owners, and it is presumed he must have fallen overboard. Then there’s a fire which cuts off ship-to-shore communications, and finally an explosion in the cargo hold, breaching the hull. But are these things all accidents, or is there a nefarious plan afoot? The crew claim Patch ordered them to take to the lifeboats and make for shore, but Patch denies this, counter-claiming that they effectively mutinied under the direction of another crewman, Higgins. Then there are rumours that something dodgy went on the last time the ship was in harbour – that the supposed cargo of aero-engines had been secretly transferred to another ship. Patch, whose career and reputation are on the line, believes the only thing to do is to salvage the wreck and examine the cargo, and he ropes in Sands and the Sea Witch to help him.

The writing is perfectly attuned to the style of the story, with great descriptions of the sea and the storms, the conditions aboard the Mary Deare, how Patch and Sands go about trying to get the engines going again, and so on. The adventure sections have a real atmosphere of tension for the most part, though I felt the final section went on a bit too long – by that stage I was ready for the plot to be brought to its conclusion.

Hammond Innes

The courtroom scenes are slower, but I enjoyed the way Innes laid out all the conflicting evidence and gave us contrasting pictures of the various crew members. We see it all through the eyes of John Sands, who, like the reader, has no knowledge of any of these men other than what they themselves tell us. Therefore, like us, Sands has to make a judgment as to whether Patch is the victim of a conspiracy or is himself the saboteur.

I listened to the audio book version, narrated by Bill Wallis, and for the most part it’s excellent. The exception is when Patch is drunk and Wallis acts this out, slurring his words. This made it very difficult for me to make out what Patch was saying, and several times I had to rewind and listen twice or three times to the same sentence. Happily Patch sobers up eventually and the problem went away. But I do wish narrators would remember that clarity is the prime essential in audiobooks, however much they may want to show off their acting skills.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this sea adventure and I’m looking forward to checking out some more of Innes’ books in the future, either in audio or print.

Audible UK Link

40 thoughts on “The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes

    • Younger ears may not have struggled so much with the slurring, but I require good diction these days! 😉 I couldn’t live on a constant diet of adventure novels but I do enjoy being whisked off every now and then!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I love the occasional adventure novel when it’s well done, and yes, it is a bit like revisiting the books of childhood – pure entertainment! I’m looking forward to reading more Hammond Innes – he seems to be a complete master of the style! Hope you enjoy this one… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I remember Hammond Innes from my youth, too, FictionFan, although it’s been years. This one does sound like a great adventure story, both when it comes to the sea part and when it comes to the courtroom. I like stories that can keep the pace up like that, and I’m glad this one did. Now, UI really ought to see if I can remember any of the Innes I read when I was young….

    Liked by 2 people

    • He seems like a real master of that old-fashioned style of adventure story, which I love! I’ll need to see what else is available and see if any of them ring bells – I’m sure there were a few on the family shelves when I was a kid. Some bits of this were really tense, and very well-written!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m afraid this one doesn’t really appeal to me at all, but that’s okay. I’m sure you’ll tempt me with your next review. 😉 What’s important is that you enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is an author I have planned to read, but never followed up on. I think I would enjoy some of his books but not sure about this one. The sailing is not that appealing with the nautical terms, etc., although I have read three of the Patrick O’Brian books and plan to read more.

    I think some of his spy fiction is where I should start?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I found he explained the nautical stuff enough for me to understand without getting bogged down in it at the expense of the story. To be honest I enjoyed it much more than the O’Brian books, which didn’t really work for me at all. All subjective, as usual! I’ll be looking to see what else of his is available – I bet his spy stories would be good too.


    • I can’t remember what else of his I may have read, but I’m sure there were some of his books on the family shelves when I was young. I’m looking forward to exploring him! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Adventures on the high seas always seem to have a certain appeal, it’s sort of like being out in space – you’re so cut off from the rest of the world that the isolation tends to ramp up the suspense like no other!

    Liked by 1 person

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