Mary Reviews: Under Water

Book Title: Under Water
Author: Casey Barrett
Series: Duck Darley #1
Genres: Mystery, Crime Fiction, Suspense
Pub Date: 11/28/17

Duck Darley should have been a winner. Once a competitive swimmer destined for Olympic gold, he drank away his gilded youth and followed his fraudster father’s footsteps into prison. Barely scraping by as an unlicensed private investigator, Duck now chases down cheating spouses for the same Manhattan elite who once viewed him as equal, and drowning bitter memories with whatever fills his glass.

Duck’s lost glory days resurface when he’s tasked with finding the teenaged sister of a former teammate turned Olympic champion. Privileged Madeline McKay vanished over Labor Day weekend, leaving behind a too-perfect West Village apartment and a promising athletic career of her own. Duck thinks he’s hunting for a self-destructive runaway–until Madeline’s film student ex is savagely murdered, and the media spins her as the psycho who killed him.

As Duck searches for Madeline, he’s plunged back into the dark underbelly of Olympic swimming–a world rife with wild lies and terrible violence. And he soon learns that no matter how hard he tries to escape his past, demons still lurk beneath every surface . . .


There is a story in my family, that when I was a baby, my mother asked my oldest brother to hold me and pose for a photo in front of our swimming pool. After the Polaroid flashed my brother, ten years my senior promptly tossed me in the pool.  He swears it didn’t happen out of callous nature or dislike for his months old baby sister, but rather that I was mesmerized by the water. He knew, because he was too, he was a swimmer from the start and he claims he could tell by the way I looked at the water that I was too.  To this day, I’m still not sure I believe his version of events entirely, but the story goes, that I swam without hesitation, without panic, I just took to the water and swam.  Well, it turns out, all babies have that instinct, I wasn’t special, and it’s just a survival instinct, sink or swim.

Duck Darley is the epitome of survival instinct. He is a self destructive, self deprecating, lost soul that is certainly an alcoholic and prescription drug addict, and yet, Duck Darley continued to float to the surface.

Lawrence Darley grew up with wealth, opportunity and privilege, none of it earned, all of it handed to him by his parents.  The only thing he earned was his place as a top ranked swimmer and the nickname Duck for how naturally he took to the water.  His future had the Olympics written all over it.  But, his father’s wealth was lost and reputation tarnished when he was exposed as a crook.  The fall of his father was an event no one would soon forget, and one that would now define his son, deserving or not.

With a legacy too heavy to bear and all plans for his future lost, Duck Darley started on a path very far from his Olympic dreams, a path that included dulling the pain with alcohol and prescription drugs. As an unlicensed private detective, Duck has unorthodox ways of tracking down the information that he seeks, but he’s good at finding what he’s after and keeping it quiet. Which is exactly what his clientele, the wealthy heiresses of Manhattan want, information without publicity. Duck generally spends his days tracking down cheating spouses and collecting enough damning evidence to break even the strongest of prenuptial agreements, receiving not only generous payouts for a job well done, but recommendations to other wealthy clients in need of his discretion. Overall, it’s a depressing way to make a living, but it pays the bills and keeps him busy enough not to drown in the bottom of a bottle.

When Margaret McKay approaches Duck, the mother of an old friend from his high school swim team, he’s intrigued by her offer, but weary to revisit the memories of the best and worst time in his life.  He agrees to help her out, the money she offers is irresistible and the job seems easy enough, track down her angst ridden teenage daughter, Madeline that seems to have run away.

But when Duck starts to investigate, with the help of his partner and only friend, Cass, a brilliant and beautiful woman who makes her living as a dominatrix, they soon find, there is much more to the story than a simple runaway. Madeline has left a path of destruction in her wake so when her boyfriend turns up savagely murdered, it’s easy for the police and the media to think she did it.  But Duck finds it too easy. As he digs deeper into Madeline’s life, he finds that he is delving deeper into his own past as well, and it turns out he’s not welcomed with open arms.

The more Duck uncovers, the darker things turn. After being jumped and nearly killed, he soon realizes there is more to what happened to Madeline than anyone is telling him. Never one to heir on the side of caution, or self-preservation, Duck refuses to back down.  But what he discovers is not what he expected, and for the first time, finds himself completely unprepared for the consequences. Even with his fierce survival instincts, Duck faces the very real possibility that he’ll drown.

UNDER WATER is an intense read with a great noir feel to it.  The characters are dark and layered.  The story is full of suspenseful twists that had me jumping out of skin. Every time I thought I had it figured out, something new would be revealed and I was forced to rethink my theory. The ending is explosive and stays with you long after you’ve finished reading.

UNDER WATER is an expertly crafted mystery, that introduces the antihero you can’t help but root for, Duck Darley is witty, crass and endearing and quickly became one of my all time favorite characters. This is a 4 star read that pairs well with Stag’s Leap ARTEMIS Cabernet, its got bite, but a smooth finish that leaves your head swimming ever so slightly.



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