In The Red Reef, a 23-page sea adventure, Captain Thomas Larkin is racked by guilt even though he committed no crime. The master of ‘The Red Reef’ is distraught with grief ever since a gale sank his ship. The shipwreck costs lives and sends Larkin, one of the survivors, into gloom. Although he can still command a ship, if he wants to, he decides to sail as an ordinary seaman, “sweating out his guilt in the blistering sun on deck” and trying to forget his past.
But his past catches up with him. One day, as Larkin is drowning his sorrow in liquor at a port-side tavern, Giselle Beauchene, a young and sensual woman, walks up to him and asks him to take her to the spot where the ship sank. She wants to pay tribute to her father, Charles Beauchene, who was a passenger on ‘The Red Reef.’
Although the deep-sea journey will not bring her old man back from the dead, Larkin reluctantly agrees to take Giselle because it will in some way enable him to overcome his guilt. Giselle hires a schooner called the ‘Gallister’ captained by a dubious-looking Scotsman named MacGreevey and the trio and crew waste no time in setting sail for the Navabutu Straits.
However, once the ‘Gallister’ reaches the graveyard at sea, Giselle reveals her true colours and her hidden motive. The morning after a night of lovemaking with Larkin, she turns on the tormented captain with a gun and tells him what she has in mind. The journey of redemption soon turns into a nightmare for Thomas Larkin.
Seasoned author James Reasoner tells a classic pulp story without much fuss. There is little description of people and places. The characters of Larkin and Giselle are well drawn. It’s short and gritty, and it has some good action and an unexpected twist in the end. I liked The Red Reef as much as I liked Reasoner’s The Man on the Moon which I reviewed on October 6. Both stories are crisp and very entertaining to read.
The Red Reef was originally published in Hardluck Stories, June 2008, but you can pick up the Kindle edition at Amazon.