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Nick Elliott: Shipping thriller trilogy

In need of some weekend reading? Well then, marine claims investigator Angus McKinnon is back in the third installment of Nick Elliott’s thriller series.

Black Reef sees our hero get tangled up in his most high wire, explosive plot to date. When a ship’s captain is found hanged in his cabin, McKinnon is dispatched to work out if it’s a suicide or a murder. However, when he discovers a falsely declared cargo of military equipment in the ship’s holds, alarm bells start ringing in the intelligence world.

What looked routine becomes a perilous mission to thwart a coup d’état that threatens to pit two global superpowers against one another, while a secretive bank with Nazi gold glimmering darkly in its vaults attempts to derail the investigation.

The fast-paced thriller takes readers from the Atlantic Ocean to the jungles of West Africa and a final face-off in the vast emptiness of the Sahara.

The author, Elliott, has appeared on Maritime CEO before and is well known in shipping circles having been with Inchcape for many years before retiring.

The inspiration for this latest work dates back to a real life shipping event 10 years ago. In 2009 the Arctic Sea, a geared general cargo ship, went missing on a voyage from Finland to Algeria, having apparently been boarded by hijackers off the coast of Sweden.

“What lay behind the hijacking and subsequent events is still open to conjecture, but even at the time the story struck me as having the makings of a good plot,” Elliott recounts.

In Black Reef, a similar fate befalls the Dalmatia Star, though under different circumstances.

Further real life events helped frame the plot of Elliott’s latest fictional work. A few years back Inchcape handled several cargoes of military equipment out of Trabzon on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. This materiel was being returned from the conflict zones of Iraq and Afghanistan to the respective bases of the coalition’s armed forces in the US, UK and other supporting countries.

This and the disappearance of the Arctic Star laid the foundations for the plot of Black Reef, which would lead to a coup attempt in West Africa and a confrontation between the intelligence services of Russia and the US.

Laced on top of that is Portugal’s receipt of Nazi gold during World War II, something that has long interested the Scottish author.

In the introduction to Black Reef Elliott explains a little about his returning hero, Angus, a man who passes more than a passing similarity with the author.

“Because I write in the first person it’s not easy to describe him in the books, other than through his actions and the observations of other characters,” Elliott tells Maritime CEO. “And he’s not the kind of guy who wallows in much self-analysis either. Many of his experiences and where they take place are based on agency cases and P&I claims I handled over the years, suitably embellished and dramatised of course. I’m sure many of your readers could do the same. But how he reacts to such events? That’s very much Angus. However, I can’t deny that he shares many of my subjective opinions about life and the world in general.”

Now that he has a trilogy under his belt the former Inchcape executive is raring for more writing.

“I have plenty of ideas. We’ll see,” he concludes.

Black Reef can be bought in ebook or paperback editions here.


  1. These Angus McKinnon thrillers are great maritime yarns. Highly recommended. I’ve read them all. Keep up the good work Nick.

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