Book review: Deadly secrets on the Outer Banks

“Dark of the Island,” by UNC-Wilmington professor Philip Gerard.
“Dark of the Island,” by UNC-Wilmington professor Philip Gerard.

Almost a decade ago, Wilmington author Philip Gerard wrote “Hatteras Light,” a novel about Outer Banks boatmen battling German U-boats in World War II.

Now comes a sequel of sorts: “Dark of the Island,” an action-packed mystery generously flavored with salt spray.

The action flashes back and forth between the 1940s and the 1990s. In the first scene, Nicholas Wolf, a German-American machinist, is inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s speech at an America First rally and decides to return home to defind the Fatherland, leaving a wife and child in Chicago.

Later, Marlena Wolf gets conflicting news. One report says her husband died in the U.S. Merchant Marine, after his oil tanker was torpedoed and sunk off Cape Hatteras. Other records say he was a corporal in the Wehrmacht, killed while attached to a German U-boat in 1942.

Flash forward: Marlena’s grandson Nick Wolf, a troubleshooter for a small oil company, heads off to Hatteras Island. His employers have found promising petroleum deposits off the Outer Banks. Nick’s job is to charm the locals. It won’t be easy. “No Drill!” signs are sprouting and the opposition isn’t just on paper. “Accidents” plague local operations.

What’s more, the locals – especially the older ones – react warily, when they learn Nick’s name.

What follows is a reasonably taut mystery of secrets and lies on a tight little island. The plot allows Girard to deal with environmental issues and, more subtly, to cope with that elusive quality, Sense of Place. The Hatteras natives all know who they are and where they come from and are enmeshed in a web of family and personal relationships.

Contrasted to them are the corporate characters like Nick, who rove the globe without putting down roots. Nick has no family, other than his grandma. Only gradually does he realize he’s missing something.

Girard, a professor of creative writing at UNC Wilmington, emphasizes that he has thoroughly fictionalized Hatteras society and even altered the island’s geography for dramatic purposes. His text, nevertheless, has a convincing feel. He spins a yarn like a veteran. The result should find a secure mooring in the realm of “guy fiction.”


“Dark of the Island”

By Philip Gerard

John F. Blair, 254 pages, paperback