Swamp Ghosts was the first book I read by Marcia Meara and I’ve enjoyed every one since. It was published in 2014 and is a romantic suspense novel, with the emphasis on suspense.
Maggie Devlin, after a horrendous and violent marriage, has been happily single for the last eight years. She owns and skippers an eco tour boat, the Undine, taking tourists out on the St John’s River and into the Florida swamps, to check out the varied plant and animal life. Along with the boat, her father left her a battered old truck and his heavily mortgaged house. The business is virtually bankrupt and that’s why, when local photographer, Gunnar Wolfe, shows up at the quay one day wanting to hire Maggie as his guide, against her better judgement, she accepts.
Gunn’s passion is wildlife photography and his dream is to find and photograph the rarest of creatures. The ones people don’t generally see. The ones that might snag him the cover of National Geographic. To do that he knows a canoe would have to be the mode of travel, but he also knows he would never be able to navigate the tributaries and waterways off the river. He would need a guide. There was only one problem. Gunn had never been in a canoe before, being on the water is completely out of his comfort zone and a daunting prospect.
Twenty minutes later, I was still staring at Gunnar Wolfe. My first reaction to his idea was that he was crazy. My second reaction was that he was really crazy. But I let him talk, and slowly, I began to realize he was serious. He wanted to seek out the wildest and most pristine areas in the various wetlands of Florida, and document them through photography….
And then he told me what he was really looking for.
“An ivory-billed woodpecker? Are you crazy? The last proven records of ivory-bills were clear back in the 1930s, weren’t they? The entire scientific community believes they’re extinct!” I was disgusted with myself for having begun to like the idea. This guy was living in a dream world.
The prologue sets up the chilling and disturbing mystery/suspense aspect of the story, and I like how I was lead one way only to feel uncertain the more the story progressed. And yes, I was completely wrong. The narrative switches from Maggie’s first person point of view to other third person perspectives throughout, which is different but works well.
A great cast of characters which include Maggie and Gunn, easy to picture and like, as is Willow, Maggie’s best friend. Maggie, strong and independent, not needing or looking for romance. After the horror that was her marriage she is rebuilding her life and is content with her best friends and going home to Bogey, her Quaker parrot. Gunn, an easy-going, decent man who loves his work and hasn’t yet found the woman of his dreams. Lester, the strange loner with the hobby which is the stuff of nightmares – for me anyway. And Billy, the boyish charmer, first mate on the Undine.
The scenery is described in beautiful and vivid detail and really gives a feel for the area. Suspense and tension are built gradually after a grisly find by Maggie and Gunnar lead to more discoveries, and the realisation there is a serial killer on the loose in Riverbend. The romance didn’t overwhelm the story and there’s a great twist at the end.
About the Book
Wildlife photographer Gunnar Wolfe looked like the kind of guy every man wanted to be and every woman just plain wanted, and the St. Johns River of central Florida drew him like a magnet. EcoTour boat owner Maggie Devlin knew all the river’s secrets, including the deadliest ones found in the swamps. But neither Maggie nor Gunn was prepared for the danger that would come after them on two legs.
On a quest to make history photographing the rarest birds of them all, Gunnar hires the fiery, no-nonsense Maggie to canoe him into the most remote wetland areas in the state. He was unprepared for how much he would enjoy both the trips and Maggie’s company. He soon realizes he wants more, but before he can win her over, they make a grisly discovery that changes everything, and turns the quiet little town of Riverbend upside down. A serial killer is on the prowl among them.