‘The God in the Sea’ Brings Maritime Mystery

by Debra Lawless

Paul Kemprecos’s ninth installment in his suspenseful Aristotle “Soc” Socarides series, “The God in the Sea” (Thalassa Imprints, 2024), is set largely in Provincetown.

The book opens with a quote from the ancient Greek poet Hesiod. “Do not seek evil gains; evil gains are the equivalent of disaster.”

We move then to April 1897 when a yacht with a mysterious cargo is set to depart New York for Boston. During the stormy voyage the heavy crated cargo rips loose, eventually puncturing the ship’s hull. The yacht and its cargo sink to the bottom of Cape Cod Bay off Provincetown.

Flash forward a century and a quarter. A professor working at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is blown up by a mail bomb. Flash forward another six weeks, and Soc is returning from a winter in the Florida Keys with his cat, Kojak. Soc, you will recall, is a retired Boston Police officer turned PI who lives in a converted boathouse overlooking Pleasant Bay. These days he’s making a living running his charter boat, the “Thalassa.” That’s Greek for “sea.” Crossing the Cape Cod Canal Soc tells us: “The ancient Greeks believed that once you crossed the mythological river Styx, you can never go back. Yeah, I know, the Cape Cod Canal is a far cry from the shadowy boundary between light and darkness. But crossing the canal that day changed my life, and almost ended it.”

Soc has problems with his extended family, who are running a frozen Greek food empire and have fronted him the cash to buy “Thalassa.” He makes a quick side trip to Martha’s Vineyard at the behest of a Vietnam buddy, now a “spook,” and manages to rile up some shadowy gangsters. The pace of the story quickens as another Vietnam buddy who has salvaged something from a mysterious wreck off Provincetown asks for Soc for his help. It’s not giving too much away to note that murder soon intrudes and Soc finds himself hiding out in a Provincetown dune shack as he investigates.

Kemprecos dedicates his novel to Greek-Americans such as his father who left his “rocky homeland” in Thessaly. Kemprecos, who lives in Dennis Port, grew up in the Greek community of Brockton. For 25 years Kemprecos worked in the newspaper business. Generally speaking, you can trust you’re in good hands when a newspaper reporter turns to writing fiction. Kemprecos’s mysteries are beautifully constructed and for Cape Codders, the accurate settings are a bonus.

“How fun it is to live in the place you write about,” Kemprecos said during a telephone interview last week. Sometimes when he goes to the Outer Cape he remembers a scene he set in a certain place. “It becomes a part of you. How has it changed in the years since I described it?”

Generally Kemprecos describes the Cape with a journalist’s eye combined with a creative license. Ever climbed Provincetown’s 250-foot tall Pilgrim Monument? That’s “where middle-aged men who think they’re in good shape learn the hard way that the sweet bird of youth has flown south.”

When Kemprecos created Soc back in 1991, he realized there had not been a Greek detective since the 1970s-era Kojak TV series. And he wanted Soc to have a philosophic side. “I didn’t want him to be hard-boiled,” he says.

We first met Soc in Kemprecos’s debut “Cool Blue Tomb.” Soc, who narrates the mysteries in the first person, was thinking about Aesop on a stormy day while reading the comics section in the Boston Sunday Globe. Soc was then in his 40s.

“Cool Blue Tomb” won the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award for Best Paperback Novel. Kemprecos followed that immediately with “Neptune’s Eye” and four later additional contributions to the series. Bestselling thriller author Clive Cussler’s stellar blurb didn’t hurt: “Absolutely the best private-eye mystery I’ve ever read. I can’t wait for the next one.” Cussler went on to offer a second blurb: “There can be no better mystery writer in America today than Paul Kemprecos.”

Kemprecos joined up with Cussler in writing the New York Times best-selling “The NUMA Files” books. After about 12 years, Kemprecos returned to the Soc series, and has released three more installments in recent years. Soc has aged by a few years but the books have remained in the late ‘90s when cell phones and computers were becoming widespread. Kemprecos’s biggest challenge as time moves along is Kojak, the Maine coon cat who is now “a couple of cans of Friskies short of a ticket to catnip heaven.”

“It amazed me how people have gotten attached to Kojak,” Kemprecos says. Fans even send him photos of their own coon cats.

Kemprecos says this may be his final Soc book although he does have a Soc novelette that he has not yet published.

Kemprecos will host a book launch event at the Dennis Public Library, 5 Hall St., Dennis Port, on Saturday, Feb. 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. To register, call the library at 508-760-6219. The book will be available in local bookstores and online on Feb. 24.