In 1978, two tortured corpses were discovered in the sea off Guatemala. Hooded, bound with ropes and weighted down with heavy engine parts, Chris Farmer and his girlfriend Peta Frampton were still clinging to life when they were thrown from a yacht on which they had been crewing.
This is the gripping account of how Chris’s family painstakingly gathered evidence against the boat’s Californian skipper, Silas Duane Boston, working alongside the FBI, Interpol, and police in the UK and the USA. Almost four decades later in 2015, there was a major breakthrough in the case when, using Facebook, Chris’s sister Penny tracked Boston down. Following the testimony of his two sons who, as young boys, had witnessed the horrific murder of Chris and Peta at the hands of their father, Boston was finally arrested and charged with two counts of maritime murder.
Chillingly, Boston was later linked to several other killings on US soil―at one point he was even the FBI’s prime suspect in the notorious Golden State Killer case, until DNA ruled him out. The list of crimes for which he was suspected put him in the league of America’s most prolific and elusive serial killers.
Not just a story of murder on the high seas, Dead in the Water is a tale that offers insights into the minds of the killer and his two sons. And it reveals a family’s fortitude and diligence in tracking down a monster of a man, a task which ultimately fell to the author to complete. It exemplifies that life can be senselessly snuffed out but love never dies.
In my experience, there are two different kinds of perfect ratings. (I know, sounds like a paradox, but bear with me.) There are the books that have very few flaws, develop characters so well they feel real, prompt the right reactions in a reader, and navigate the plot in a way that’s effective and memorable. Then, there are the books that just rip your heart out and will only give it back to you relatively unscathed when it’s over. Dead in the Water lands in the second category.
Dead in the Water is an almost unbelievable story of a double homicide committed in the 1970s, where communicating anywhere about anything is borderline impossible. Chris (the author, Penny Farmer’s, brother) and his girlfriend Peta were murdered in the waters between Guatemala and Belize, and with the victims being from the UK and the murderer from the USA, this makes for a complicated international case. But even with witnesses and the murderer’s criminal history, the case goes unsolved for an astounding four decades.
This book messed me up. It’s a reminder that you really can’t go anywhere without certain precautions, especially on international trips. Chris and Peta loved life and wanted to help people, but their lives were cut short by a psychopath who had no real good reason for doing so. Not only are there too many horrible people out there, but this case was so bungled by law enforcement that safety feels like an illusion. Farmer finds the murderer’s sons by Facebook, and manages to make contact with them, which is the only reason the case was reopened. Law enforcement thought he might have been the Golden State Killer, who operated in a similar time frame, and this is the only reason this psychopath was even caught. Even then, justice didn’t come in a way that was expected.
What really made Dead in the Water stick with me, though, is how Penny Farmer handled the writing. There is no doubt that this woman is a powerful individual. She spares nothing in this book: I cannot imagine how hard and painful opening these wounds all over again was, but she spells out their deaths, the interviews with the police, her father’s letters, her conversations with the sons. Peta’s correspondence home was included, which feels so wrong to me, because that is a part of Peta who had no idea what was coming. But most of all? With writing this book, Farmer finds meaning in a pointless tragedy. She sews a feeling of hope and faith, where none can be found, and it became very clear to me why it was because of her that Chris and Peta’s murders were solved. She touches her readers with a feeling of hey, it will be okay.
What really broke me was her inclusion of her mother’s writing as the epilogue, which was written before the case was finally concluded. This itself is emotionally devastating, but like mother, like daughter: their strength is formidable. Their ability to find parallels throughout these hellish years and take comfort from them is nothing short of inspiring.
I do need to mention grammar and formatting in this book. It has no impact on the rating, since it’s an unfinished proof, but both are lacking to the point where Dead in the Water could be difficult to read. It did need to be mentioned, since it’s going to be published so soon.
In short, I cannot recommend Dead in the Water enough. It kept me awake hours after I finished reading it. It’s a horrible, painful story, but it’s one that desperately needs to be read. My thanks go to the author and NetGalley for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.