I’ve lived across the Golden Gate from San Francisco for almost seven decades, and I’ve never ceased to be intrigued by the sight of people swimming in the bay. As a child visiting The City, I always notice the chilly-looking old men in bathing trunks and swim caps headed down the beach toward the water then wriggle around on my seat in the car to watch them smash into the water as my family motored into the Marina or out along Ocean Beach. Even in the winter. Brrrrr!
Of course I learned early on about the San Francisco Dolphin Club founded in 1877 by two German brothers and limited to only a handful of members. Over the years, the club grew and the first Golden Gate open swim was organized in 1917, but it wasn’t until 1960 the first organized Alcatraz swim took place. It was big news for this ten-year-old, swimmer. Everyone remembers how Jack Lalanne towed a rowboat from Alcatraz to S.F., swimming with his hands shackled, in less than ninety minutes. But by 1974, when the club admitted women, I’d confined my swimming to tropical beaches and heated swimming pools.
Although I’d swum and waterskied in The Bay in my teens, five years in the Rockies thinned my skin. I never participated in a Big Swim or an open water competition, something I have in common with Trisha Carson, protagonist of Dead in the Water. Trisha is the sister of thirty eight year old Lena, a successful graphic designer, and an avid open water swimmer. That’s why Trisha is relaxing in the sun on the shore of Lake Joe when she observes a contestant die in the water. It must be an accident—wasn’t it? When another swimmer drives her car off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean after another swim, she starts to think maybe these weren’t so accidental and starts asking questions.
Trisha hasn’t much else to do. She’d been the happily married wife of a software engineer in Colorado until Brad disappeared. He left for work and never came home, a situation too similar to her father’s leaving the family when she was a child. Devastated, Trisha moves back to California and her sister, and soon takes a part-time, temporary job in the offices Nor Cal Swimming Association, which pulls her into the world of open water swimming and gives her access to people and businesses connected to the sport. And Trisha, naive and relentless, asks too many people too many questions. Soon she finds herself over her head.
Although her sister and friends dismiss her suspicions, her curiosity leads her into grave danger. “I let go of the rail and plummeted toward the black water twenty-five feet below. The gun exploded behind me. . . . I tumbled into the water with a loud splash. Cold, so cold. I felt my lungs collapse. I couldn’t breath. I tried to grab bites of air, but nothing was coming in. No air. I sank below into the darkness. . . “
Even if it weren’t open season on open water swimmers in this fast-paced thriller set mostly in San Francisco, author Glenda Carroll‘s deep knowledge of the open water swimming community would satisfy. Dead in the Water is reputed to be the first open water detective novel and captures what it’s like to race in open water. Carroll has a background in both sports journalism and Masters swimming. Her detail of the industry is a character in its own right, but the true brilliance of the book is in Carroll’s plotting and pacing. While Trisha’s motivations for pursuing the investigation are alluded to, I wasn’t always clear why she risked so much when everyone tried to stop her, including her boss, who fired her. I’m hoping we learn more about Trisha’s inner workings in future books. Despite not warming up to Trisha right away (and hence, not quite believing she would push herself on folks out of curiosity and suspicion), I could not put this book down and will read and review the next of the series, Drop Dead Red, soon.
These books will make perfect summer reading for any sports enthusiast, swimmer or poolside lounger.
Excerpted from Women’s National Book Association
Written by Catharine Bramkamp
Glenda Carroll is a writer and outdoor enthusiast. Her favorite pursuit is open water swimming. She talks with us about swimming in deep water and swimming in words.
GC: Open water swimming means coming home. My dad taught me to swim in a lake in Pennsylvania. I loved the water. About twenty-five years ago, I heard of a two mile swim at Lake Berryessa. I decided to train to swim it. When the day of the swim came and I stepped into the water, I knew why I was there. It felt, looked and tasted like the lake I learned to swim in.
Dead in the Water was inspired by an organized open water swim in Whiskeytown Lake in Redding. There were two swims that day: a one mile and a two mile. I had finished the one mile swim, was sitting on the beach, waiting for the start of the next swim when people ran by me to a swimmer who was being pulled out of the water at the side of the course. Watching the EMTs try and resuscitate him and seeing his wife helpless beside him never left me. I went over to the finish line and watched swimmers as they finished. One man came through the finish chute, bent over and said ‘I think I’m having a heart attack.’ He was. Both men died. They were the first deaths in the thirty years that Pacific Masters had been sponsoring open water swims. I turned the trauma of that day into my inspiration for Dead in the Water.
I have been a writer of one kind or another my whole life, beginning with writing a gossip column in my middle school newspaper. I learned to sail in my 30s, sailed to Hawaii from San Francisco and raced sailboats for about ten years on the SF Bay. I also headed up an organization called Yacht Racing Association of SF Bay for seven years. I didn’t join a masters swim team until I was in my 40s. I was in my 50s when I learned to surf. So I am a late blooming water woman, but the underpinnings were always there. And luckily, I am blessed with a certain amount of athletic ability (well, maybe more determination than ability). I never wrote about swimming. I didn’t want to. And I didn’t know I was going to write a mystery until one day I sat down and started. Dead in the Water was as big a surprise to me as it was to everyone else.
Writing the novel was not easy. Often I found myself wondering what the next sentence, paragraph, chapter, should be. I would get up from the computer go outside and cut the grass. I had, at that time, an old push lawnmower; I cut the grass a lot. In fact, I must have had the shortest grass in my neighborhood.
I attended the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference a few years back when I started Dead in the Water. It was extremely helpful. I met with an agent who took a look at the first twenty pages of my manuscript. I wondered if she would say, ‘don’t give up your day job.’ She didn’t. She was encouraging and I kept going.
CB: And speaking of outdoor sports – Glenda also works in Guest Services for the Giants.
GC: I do everything from scan tickets, to take care of a section of the ballpark, answer questions or run an elevator. . . .during that first season, the team won the World Series and I got to be in the World Series parade. What a way to start a job!
CB: Her website is http://www.glendacarroll.com