In Micki Browning’s debut novel, Adrift: A Mer Cavallo Mystery
(2017), marine biologist and dive master Meredith Cavallo is accused of a crime. After a diving expedition goes terribly wrong, the question becomes whether an accident, a murder, or a supernatural event occurred. An Agatha Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2017), the book won the Royal Palm Literary Award for Unpublished Mystery (2015) and the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense (2015).
Meredith or Mer, as she is known, thought her transition to a laid-back lifestyle in the Florida Keys was going to be an easy feat. However, when Mer rescues a distressed and panicked diver who claims he has been pursued by a ghost in a local expedition, she gets caught up in the social media-driven whirlwind as the story goes viral. The story attracts a ghost-chasing dive team known as the Spirited Divers Paranormal Scuba Team who plans a charter dive to Key Largo’s famous Spiegel Grove shipwreck, the sight of a paranormal entity.
Mer agrees to act as the safety diver for the team’s expedition, which they plan to document. She knows the wreck inside and out; however, when the team’s leader, Ishmael Styx disappears during the nighttime dive, Mer questions all she holds true. She also becomes the prime suspect, now that her name is linked to two suspicious dives.
Detective Josh Talbot, the lead detective in charge of the case, believing Mer is hiding something, questions her involvement in both dives. Though it is apparent to Mer why she is the lead suspect—the police have no one better to blame—she is determined to find answers. She begins her own rogue investigation, taking a logical and scientific approach to Ishmael’s disappearance. She proceeds to interview, asking questions and gathering data, but finding a missing person is not something in which she is practiced. Local law enforcement continues to mount suspicion against her.
It turns out that Ishmael’s life is as riddled with mystery as is his disappearance. Business debts, insurance fraud, and illicit love affairs further complicate this case. Before long, Mer finds herself in over her head as more than her reputation is at risk. When someone tries to kill her, she knows that she is close to exposing the truth.
Mer’s scientific background makes her a skeptic; she doesn’t believe in ghosts. Initially, after the dive, she doubts her abilities as a diver when she fails to assist Ishmael even though the dive team believes the ghost of the Spiegel Spirit got him. Mer’s analytical mind has trouble with their conclusion, and she suffers from an inability to see the situation with clarity. She also encounters strange behaviors from other people connected to the case. Complicating matters further, is the return of her past love, Ian Phillips who goes by the name Selkie. Selkie is also hiding a mysterious past. He is currently Mer’s landlord and neighbor. Though attracted to him, Mer is frustrated with the mixed signals he sends her.
Browning uses more than two decades of law enforcement experience to create a murky and suspenseful thriller. An experienced diver, who also resides in the Florida Keys, she creates a realistic
visual narrative with a dark, oceanic experience that heightens the feel of the story. Suspense is maintained throughout the novel. The cast of characters adds an additional dimension to the plot, keeping readers questioning. Browning came up with the idea for Adrift
after a dive where there was a medical emergency aboard the boat. The diver involved recovered but the experience spurred “what if” questions in Browning. She also cites her favorite dive, the Spiegel Grove as a contributor to Adrift.
An FBI National Academy graduate, for more than twenty years, Micki Browning worked in municipal law enforcement. She ended that career as a division commander. Her award-winning Mer Cavallo Mystery
series is set in the Florida Keys. Her latest installment, Beached
(2018), won the Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Mystery and Book of the Year. In addition to fiction, she also writes non-fiction and short stories. Browning’s work has appeared in textbooks, anthologies, mystery magazines, and dive magazines.