When you follow free and discount e-book blogs, you learn to have low expectations. Generally the free or low-priced books you get are worth the price (I leave it to others to make such judgments on my own e-books). But now and then you discover a gem. Grave Passage by William Doonan is, all things considered, a breath of fresh air, a well-written, often funny story with a genuinely original and engaging hero/narrator.

Henry Grave is 84 years old, a retired archaeologist and one-time World War II prisoner of war. Somehow (it’s never quite explained) he got himself into a post-retirement career as an investigator for a cruise line. In that capacity he’s helicoptered onto the deck of the Contessa Voyager one night, to look into the death of one of the cruise lecturers, an FBI agent who recently announced he’d solved a famous murder and had promised to name the killer on this voyage.

Henry’s method of investigation is to settle into the routine of the cruise, enjoy the buffets, drink to excess, schmooze with the passengers, and generally project the image of a harmless, semi-senile old man. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether he’s actually faking all this – some of his lapses of memory seem genuine, and his frequent unplanned naps suggest he might want to talk to his doctor about a C-Pap machine. But the wheels are always turning behind his bumbling, buffoonish façade, and he has some surprises in store for the murderers – as well as for the readers.

I thoroughly enjoyed Grave Passage. Christian readers will not be comfortable with Henry’s heavy drinking or his sexual recreations (he flirts with any woman he likes, but reserves his actual Viagra tablets for a woman of appropriate age), but these elements are no more prominent here than in many other mysteries. Author Doonan writes good prose, creates believable, intriguing characters, and describes the cruising life authentically (as I can testify). Highly recommended.

Lars Walker is the author of several published fantasy novels, the latest of which is an e-book, Hailstone Mountain.