“Welcome to Paradise,” archaeologist Susan Dunne hears on arrival at the Caribbean island to research petroglyphs and unravel the mystery of her brother’s drowning there. But this sunny tourist paradise conceals dangerous secrets – violent native unrest, a sunken treasure guarded by legendary Jumbies, and a bloodthirsty cult. She’s more troubled by her own psychic visions of a shadowy murderer.
Susan literally dives into her investigation of the sunken treasure ship where John drowned, and its link to the photo of underwater petroglyphs he’d sent before his death. To find the truth, she must work with her number one suspect – Vic Manden, the salvage expert who was working the site with John. Resisting her attraction to the unpredictable combat vet Manden, Susan is soon in over her head in more ways than one. The only way through the murky intrigue is to dive deeper into the tantalizing clues of her visions.
The earthbound world and its shadows fell away into stillness. I was floating, drifting down into the sea’s embrace, kicking effortlessly above a smooth slope of sand and shifting pattern of lights from above – flying, more than swimming, through crystal clarity. The water somehow amplified details of fish and coral, outlining shapes with a knife edge, infusing colors with their own lights. A cloud of silvery fish drifted past and broke into glittering sparks around me.
The slope plunged deeper, sea taking on a bluer tinge. I rolled over face-up and watched etched-glass air bubbles rise to the surface, dropped back farther to revel in the freedom from gravity. Arching into an open somersault, the tank only a weightless bulk, I drifted down in a slow free-fall past darting schools of fish in colors I’d seen only inside aquariums.READ MORE
Vic was waiting below, beside a wrinkled brain coral. He gestured, and I followed him deeper over a drop-off. I caught a quick, echoing breath.
It was a lost alien city. A mad architect run amuck with coral. The reef had proliferated into fantastic shapes – tall arches, convoluted ribbons and passageways, pagoda-like spires plumed with delicate fringed plants in muted colors – submerged in flickering bands of surreal light. From out of its watery maze, a huge black manta ray suddenly lifted, flying on rippling batlike wings. The devilfish. It soared overhead, shadow touching my face, circling and gliding deeper, disappearing with a last beckoning dip.
I hovered, staring after it, caught in a disturbing, impossible sense of deja vu. Seen before, but not by me. John? A dark foreboding stirred inside me.
A high-pitched sound below caught my attention. Vic guided me on, through a dappled lacework tunnel of coral, lancing lights strobing the dimness inside. Orange blossoms of a feathery creature sucked into its tube on the rock, vanishing like a mirage as I approached. We emerged into a shimmering silver cloud of fingerlings. Vic, peering under a branching coral, waved me over, pointing at a dark crevice underneath it. I squinted into it.
A mass of slippery-looking pinkish flesh, and an eye staring out at me. The shapeless blob writhed and rolled closer. A tentacle shot out at my face.
I scrambled backwards in a gush of air.
Vic’s laughter bubbled. The tentacle had unrolled to reveal the row of suction cups on an octopus arm. With an oddly human gesture, it deposited a pink spiral shell. It rolled up again, retreating into its hole.
Vic put the shell in my hand, closing my fingers around it, his hand warm in the cool sea. He gestured, indicating my vest pocket. I peeled open the velcro and sealed the shell inside.
He checked our gauges and shot off along the reef. I kicked hard, but fell behind as a school of large, yellow-tailed fish scattered behind his fins. I turned to watch the fish shoot by, the mask and awkward tank limiting my range to a blinkered forward view. I kicked faster to catch up. I was panting, sucking at the hissing regulator, the water resisting me now. Glancing down to the fanlike growths and fronds of seaweed streaming sideways, I realized I was fighting a current. I looked up. My guide’s fins had disappeared. A dark flicker, more felt than seen, moved in beside me, and I angled to the side to see.
Six feet of lean, steel-gray, hook-jawed fish had materialized beside me in a glitter of sharp teeth.
I sucked in a shocked breath, coughing on seawater.
The barracuda fixed me with a glassy stare. I edged around to face it. It disappeared in a flash. I turned back into the current and it was there, hovering inches from my face.
I gasped. The regulator mouthpiece popped out.
Coughing, choking, I flailed for the air line. Finally grabbed the mouthpiece and purged it of water. Took a deep, shaky breath, kicking in a nervous circle. The barracuda was gone. But the current had carried me backwards. I kicked forward again. Couldn’t find Vic. I was breathing hard, straining. Checking the gauge, I realized my aimless thrashing was using up the air. I’d lost my bearings, wasn’t sure which way to head back. The water was darker out here, murky.
I looked down. I’d drifted out over the drop-off, looking down into bottomless blue rippling with the shadows of devilfish wings. I was hovering over the abyss, staring into all that dark emptiness, trying to slam doors against my nightmares.
Something touched my leg.
I kicked convulsively. Fingers slid down my calf, tightened around my ankle.
*night sea, a light beam shivers over the creatures carved in stone, stirring into life. Hissing breaths, a spill of bubbles, and the icy hands of the shadow man drag John drag me into drowning depths*
Flailing against their grip, pulse pounding in my ears, I wrenched free. Rammed into a coral outcrop, salt burning scraped skin. Groping through entangling fronds, I thrashed around to ward off another attack.
It was only Vic hovering there, eyes closed as he replaced and cleared seawater from the mask I’d kicked off his face.
I shook my head, mimed a mortified apology. He dismissed it with a gesture. Checking my gauge, I saw I’d used up most of my air in my stupid panic. I held up five fingers and Vic nodded, pointing down-current.
We headed in, the current’s flow gliding us smoothly over the reef’s rise. I hung back over the last sandy slope, unwilling to emerge. Now that the surface was close, I was reluctant to relinquish weightlessness, the clean sea hush, the shallows luminous with wavering sun. I sighed and broke through into the world.COLLAPSE
Barbara Bamberger Scott on Chanticleer Book Reviews wrote:
A 5-star Review:
Islands by Sara Stamey is a romantic suspense story. Susan Dunne is an archaeologist who travels to a beautiful Caribbean island on a grant to study petroglyphs. She has a second agenda in mind, though; investigating the death of her brother the year before. After he died, presumed to be an accident, Susan received a letter from him, a letter that indicated something more sinister. The island is far from the Paradise that it appears to be at first glance. As Susan gets stuck into her investigation, she finds that she has to join forces with Vic Manden, the man who happens to be the main suspect in her brother’s death. Susan has to battle against her own misgivings, restive natives, and spooky goings-on, and that’s not to mention her psychic visions. Will Susan find out what happened to her brother? Is she in deeper than she can handle?
Islands by Sara Stamey is a gripping read. There was quite a bit of scene setting in the early parts of the book and I thought it was going to be slow going. But, all of a sudden, we are off and running on a romping adventure, an adventure full of action, lots of spooky happenings and a little bit of romance. This is a proper page-turner, a book that, when it grabbed, held on for dear life, not letting go until the exciting ending. Ms. Stamey has a real flair for writing, clearly knows how to research the background for a book, and knows how to draw a reader in and hold onto them. The character development was done in such a way that you truly felt you knew the main characters inside out and could identify with them throughout the story. This is an excellent read, ideal for fans of true thrillers and suspense stories – you won’t be disappointed.
Wendy Kendall on Lynwood Today Newspaper wrote:
First place, Chanticleer Paranormal Suspense:
ISLANDS by Sara Stamey – a contemporary thriller that combines the lure of the Caribbean with gritty reality.
When anthropologist Susan Dunne goes to a Caribbean island to investigate a mysterious stone carving, she finds that it is not only the ancient past that haunts her, but a ghost from her closest family.
Susan is drawn to the islands by a crumpled letter from her murdered brother, who before his death made a find that could lead her to academic fame. If she can locate his discovery, she may be able to prove that a petro-glyph hundreds of years old is of African origin, predating the incursion of Columbus to the Caribbean. The combination of her professional dreams and the nightmare of John’s violent killing quickly pull her into the bloody heart of the region’s notorious voodoo cult. Seeking an old, wise professor, Phillip Holte, who may know where to find the petro-glyphs, she is aided and at times thwarted by John’s grieving girlfriend Laura, and by John’s worst enemy, possibly his killer, Victor Manden.
With Vic dogging her tracks and Laura watching from the sidelines, Susan, perilously naïve concerning the secrets of the island people, believes she is close to her goal when she finds and is befriended by Phillip. But she continually ignores the warnings of those who know better than she the danger she’s in. Almost too late she realizes that someone she has trusted is a force for savagery and suffering, pulling her into a morass of occult horror beyond her worst imagining. Before her island visit is over, Susan will have to confront the most primitive aspects of her own nature.
Author Sara Stamey has lived some of what she has created in the fictional Islands: she is a world traveler, who, like Susan and her Caribbean companions, is an avid scuba diver. Stamey knows the region, colorfully painting the searing sunlight, the sparkling clear underwater world viewed by divers seeking buried treasure, the ubiquitous sweet and sometimes doctored rum drinks, and the tight, tense lines drawn between island “natives” (actually former slaves) and the “continentals,” the name given to the minority whites, former plantation masters now trying to cynically exploit their properties as a glitzy tourist trap.
Mystical, romantic, intellectually and viscerally stimulating, Islands deftly depicts a woman’s encounter with deadly lies and the chance for true and lasting love.
Dan Hays on Statesman Journal wrote:
“Just a touch of turbulence, folks. Buckle up.” Maybe archeologist Susan Dunne should have heard the pilot’s voice over the speaker as a larger warning, about what lay ahead of her on the Islands of the Caribbean. Curl up with a hot mystery that’s set in a sunny, tourist mecca. Join this Pacific Northwest scientist as she digs deep into the culture, the history and the motives of current residents, within this garden paradise.
No stranger to investigating mysteries, Susan Dunne specializes in discovering and researching clues to discovering ancient petroglyphs and their associated history. These are boulders and rocks with primitive carvings. An intriguing dimension that enhances their allure is that many of the carved designs that are found worldwide are surprisingly similar. Susan is working on a theory and wants to consult with an anthropologist who was last reported to be hiding out in the Caribbean. She is on the hunt to find him and her search turns up some unexpected and ominous results.
But Susan also holds a secret of her own, the last letter from her dear brother. He recently drowned while living on this island as he was diving for treasure at a sunken ship that’s guarded by legendary voodoo, Jumbies, and a bloodthirsty cult. Susan wants to solve the mystery surrounding his death. She unlocks some most disturbing secrets and will need to face fears of her own in order to try to stop evil from overtaking her.
The history, legends and culture of the Caribbean are integrated delightfully within this suspenseful story. The characters and their passionate motivations are artfully revealed throughout the course of the plot. Descriptions of the luscious setting, both above and below waters, during adventurous scuba dive explorations, are to be savored.
The author, Sara Stamey, wrote an early draft of Islands when she was living in the Caribbean, working as a scuba instructor and guide. She originally wrote the book as a stand-alone novel. At the end she felt that the characters had more to tell, so she started a sequel set in Belize and Guatemala, where she has also spent time. Sara’s journeys include treasure hunting, backpacking worldwide, operating a nuclear reactor at Hanford, and owning a farm in Southern Chile. Returning to her home town in the Pacific Northwest, she taught creative writing at Western Washington University for several years.
This author has several other exciting books as well, including her most recent The Ariadne Connection, which is a science fiction thriller.
on Hollywood Book Festival:
"A superior mystery and suspense novel with solid characters, some very spooky goings-on, and lots of wonderful writing... An intellectual thriller? Absolutely. It's a fast read, a stomping, vivid ride, the work of a woman who is passionate about lots of things."
Winner of the Genre Award