The year is 1838.  Wiki Coffin sits impatiently on the banks of the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Virginia.  He looks out on the seven ships of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, a convoy filled with astronomers, naturalists, and sailors, which is about to depart on a globe-circling voyage to establish the scientific reputation of America.  Half New Zealand Maori and half American, Wiki is due to sail a part of the scientific corps, to interpret Pacific languages, and to help navigate the Pacific islands that are his natural heritage.  However, after he discovers a boat drifting down the river with a dead woman inside, he is arrested by the local sheriff for a vicious murder he did not commit.
The victim is Mrs. Tristram Stanton, the wife of one of the Expedition's "scientifics," and one of the wealthiest women in Virginia.  Although her husband has an obvious motive for the crime, he has an unbreakable alibi--which Wiki Coffin does not.  However, he manages to prove his innocence, impressing the sheriff with his shrewd intelligence.  Before freeing Wiki to join his ship, the sheriff deputizes him, with the job of finding the true murderer, who is also with the fleet.
Dangers and difficulties lie ahead.  Wiki's race and lack of respect for authority help create his own enemies--men who will stop at nothing to foil him in his quest.  It is against long odds and at perilous risk that he closes in on the criminal, and in the throes of a nailbiting conclusion ensures that justice is served on the deadly high seas.
Read A Review:

New Zealander Druett, an award-winning writer of nautical nonfiction ... provides a fascinating glimpse of American history during the era of exploration as well as a great deal of seafaring lore.  The not-so-subtle racism that Wiki faces, the details of daily life aboard a small ship, and a subplot concerning the interest of the uneducated sailors in the scientific research going on around them all add color to the story.  This impressive debut will appeal both to fans of historical mysteries and to Patrick O'Brian readers.

Booklist (starred review) 9/1/2004

Enriched by detailed descriptions of sailing ships and their armaments, social relationships at sea and ashore, and the rampant racism that threatens the Pacific islanders in the crews, Druett's book combines fact and fiction to make a lively read.

Sail Magazine, March 2005

Wiki Coffin's ironic sense of humour and sharp mind continue to engage the reader enough to persevere until the end of the novel to experience a thrilling race against time and a sudden understanding of events.

 Townsville Bulletin (starred review) 8/14/2007