BY: TIM HOLLAND
Midsummer in the lowcountry of South Carolina is a dreamy, quiet time. Professor Sidney Lake uses this respite for literary research and planning his next semester, but his Gullah housekeeper, Tillie James, has other plans for him. She needs his help in dealing with a touchy subject: the death of George Reed and the suspicions it aroused that his wife Becky was involved, even though the coroner and the police chief declared Reed’s death an unfortunate accident. As the police are in the business of catching the guilty and have no interest in proving someone innocent, it’s up to Lake and Tillie—along with his graduate assistant, the local minister, and a retired policeman—to save Becky Reed’s reputation. The proof of her innocence seems to rest on the quirks of the rising and falling tide in the marsh where George died. But the search for the truth turns out to be more than Sidney bargained for—and suddenly, his life and those of his friends are on the line…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Rising Tide by Tim Holland, Sidney Lake is a professor who just wants some peace and quiet during his summer vacation to plan his next semester. But, alas, this is not to be. His housekeeper comes to him in distress because she fears the reputation of her friend Becky will be ruined since everyone is saying she murdered her husband, even though the police ruled the death an accident. Apparently, public opinion matters more than in the lowcountry of South Carolina than the judgment of the police and medical examiner. As Sidney sets out to prove Becky’s innocence, the evidence seems to depend on the rise and fall of the tides in the lowcountry salt-water marshes. And when Sidney discovers that there is more to the “accidental” death of Becky’s husband than what it appears to be on the surface, all hell breaks loose.
I loved all the interesting people and places. Holland’s vivid descriptions make you feel like you’re right there in the scene, watching firsthand as the mystery unfolds.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Rising Tide, A Sidney Lake Lowcountry Mystery, by Tim Holland is the story of close-knit communities and how they operate under the surface. When Becky Reed’s husband George dies in a boating mishap, the police and county corner declare the death an unfortunate accident. Case closed, game over. But the locals in the area know better. They understand the rise and fall of the tides in the marshes, the way the water flows and eddies, and how the skiffs and small boats used in the marshes drift with the currents. And they know, based on this font of local information, that something is very wrong with the scenario the police are espousing concerning George’s death. So if it wasn’t an accident, it must have been murder. And the most obvious suspect, of course, is George’s long-suffering wife Becky. This is where Sidney Lake, a professor at a local college, comes in. Convinced by his housekeeper that Becky is innocent, Sidney sets out to prove it, setting in motion a chain of events that will put several people’s lives in danger.
The Rising Tide is both an intriguing mystery and a treatise on human behavior. Holland’s character development is superb, creating a host of interesting characters, from down-to-earth local fishermen—who don’t need forensics, only their knowledge of the tides, to know that this accident was murder—to charming, if somewhat clueless, graduate students, to interfering busybodies eager for any snippet of gossip they can spread to willing ears. Between his characters’ fascinating idiosyncrasies and his in-depth descriptions, Holland gives his story a ring of truth that’s a rare treat.
The skiff drifted quietly in the still water—barely moving. George Reed stood up slowly, not wanting to make a sudden motion that would attract attention. The small boat wiggled in the water and sent tiny ripples out from its sides as he looked straight ahead over the bow and focused on the forested shoreline ahead of him.
“You’re sure about this?”
“Absolutely,” answered Warren, sitting behind him with a paddle lying across his lap. The long pole he used to push them out into the secluded spot in the middle of the open area with the best view rested along the left side of the boat, as it could no longer reach the deep, soft bottom.
George, now using the binoculars, carefully searched the shoreline of the small marsh island nestled in the remote reaches of the Morgan River. The tall marsh grass, that extended out from the island and surrounded the area from which they watched, made the small boat and its passengers virtually invisible.
“Should be about two-thirds of the way up on the left side. Got the camera with you?” Warren whispered.
“Got it right here around my neck so I won’t lose it,” George whispered back, while shifting his focus to a point mid-way up the line of trees.
He inched his head around laterally, while holding the binoculars steady, and examined each branch carefully. When he reached the perimeter of his search pattern, he focused on the next six feet above that and worked his way back. His digital camera with a small telephoto lens moved across his chest with the rhythm of his movements, its long looping strap around his neck so he wouldn’t drop it overboard if the small boat suddenly shifted under him. Although a sure-footed experienced boater, he knew that he likelihood of hanging onto both the binoculars and the camera in a rocking flat-bottomed skiff would be slim, especially with the four scotches swirling around in his head. He kept one hand on the binoculars but the other one he wanted free in case he needed it for stability. An old hand at this, he had no expectation of accidentally falling out of the boat but knew that losing the camera could be a real possibility. It was his favorite for this kind of shoot: finding something unexpected. He brought it with him when he transferred to his friend’s skiff from his own boat, which would have been too large to maneuver to this precise spot.
Finally, he thought he saw something. Focusing his eyes on an area near the top of one of the tall, skinny, pine trees, he took hold of the camera with his free hand but kept looking intensely at the tree. With extreme care, he switched from the binoculars to the camera—the left hand moving down and the right grabbing hold of the camera and bringing it into position. The small but efficient telephoto lens confirmed his find.
He started to whisper quietly, “Yeah, I—” He then gave out a yell, “Whoooooo—” as the skiff suddenly rocked violently. He dropped the camera as he spread his arms out to keep his balance. The binoculars headed for the water. “What the—” he started to say as he realized Warren seemed to be purposely rocking the boat even harder.
The camera, on its elongated strap, bounced wildly against his chest, leapt up, and hit him in the mouth, and then went over his shoulder to his back. He lost his footing and, as he went over the side, his friend reached out and made a grab for the camera strap.
“I’ve got it.” Grabbing it tight, Warren wanted to get it off George’s neck and into the water, where it would be destroyed. The plan wasn’t working. It had gone terribly wrong. There wasn’t supposed to be that long strap. This was supposed to be an accident, with the camera the only casualty.
George went over the side but the strap around his neck held by Warren pulled his head back. Warren, now panicking and fearing he would be pulled into the water, tightened his grip on the strap. George’s head snapped back hard and slammed against the edge of the boat with a terrible cracking sound. His body went limp immediately and the camera strap broke sending the camera flying into Warren, who took a glancing blow to the top of his head. The force of George going over the side pushed the skiff in the opposite direction away from where he went into the water. The paddle went into the water. The pole went into the water. Warren fell backward in the boat—dazed. Frightened birds took flight all around, wings flapping anxiously. The water boiled and rolled pushing the skiff away from the drowning man.
Warren pulled and clawed his way back into his seat. The boat had been completely turned around, and he realized he faced the wrong way as he looked for his friend. He spun around and could see heavy ripples in the water but no sign of George. The urge to jump in after him flashed across Warren’s mind but left just as quickly. The water here was ten feet deep and he was no swimmer. He spotted the paddle about twenty feet opposite the boat drifting toward the marsh grass and began hand paddling toward it.
He kept looking back over his shoulder as his hands hit the water. Still no sign of George.
With the paddle in hand he made his way quickly to where he believed they were when George went over the side. The area was almost completely calm again, still no sign of George.
Panicking again, Warren searched in vain, trying to see through the black water. He didn’t even know if he was in the right spot.
“Oh, my God! What have I done?” He sat alone in the middle of the boat with his head in his hands. The camera, the focus of his plan, sat in a pool of water at his feet. “It’s been at least five minutes. He must be dead. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got the camera, and I’m sure the pictures are on it. No one knows I was with him. They’ll just think he fell out of his boat, drowned, and drifted in here. It happens all the time. There’s nothing I can do.”
Warren looked around nervously. The quiet returned, the water still again, the ripples gone. The birds were coming back. He quietly put the paddle into the water and made his way back to the main channel through the marsh grass the way he came.
Warren sat in front of his computer and proceeded to bring up the on-line edition of The Island Packet. The Beaufort Gazette with the front page story about finding George Reed’s body sat on the table next to him.
He searched through all the local stories and found one that mirrored what the Gazette printed. Good, he thought, no hint of foul play.