Dangerous Crossing

"Sandwiched between two policemen, the woman descends the gangplank of the ship." It's September 4, 1939--war has just been declared--and the boat is the Orontes. The British ship has docked in Sydney after five weeks at sea, which produced two corpses. From here, Dangerous Crossing rewinds to the day when Lily Shepherd, a young working-class Englishwoman from whose point of view the novel is told, boards the ship in Essex. Lily's intent, like that of other young British women on board, is to work as a maid in Australia, although she dares to dream of more than a life in service.

On the boat, the glittery Eliza and Max Campbell seek out her company. Why, Lily wonders, is this first-class couple fraternizing with her and the others in tourist class, including Edward Fletcher, whose hot-and-cold attitude toward her is puzzling? Also perplexing: when her new friend Maria Katz, an Austrian Jew, says that she's been assaulted on board, the ship's personnel don't believe her.

Dangerous Crossing has the trappings of an Agatha Christie mystery--somewhat heightened characterizations, preoccupation with social class, scrupulous attention to wardrobe--but Rachel Rhys (the pen name of the English suspense novelist Tammy Cohen) is especially beholden to Death on the Nile, with which this book shares its era, shipboard setting and breathtaking scenery. Christie would have steered clear of Dangerous Crossing's sexual content, but she would nonetheless have found this sumptuous, rewarding (and hopefully Masterpiece-bound) historical crime novel deadly. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author

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