The Bloody Black Flag
Spider John Rush was a married carpenter, but forced by circumstance into piracy. Now he and his friend Ezra must once again join a pirate crew to avoid danger ashore. Their new ship is captained by William Barlow, a harsh but seemingly competent skipper. When Ezra is killed under mysterious circumstances, Spider turns sleuth, an unpopular role on a pirate ship. To make matters worse, Barlow grows tyrannical and eventually murderous. After a second mystery is thrown into the mix, Spider’s life expectancy plummets.
Set in the 1720s, this novel is enjoyable as both historical adventure and whodunit, but it has shortcomings in each area. The nautical and military action and terminology sometimes lack precision and authenticity. Both mysteries are intriguing, but clues are lacking so that Spider seems to ask himself the same unanswerable questions over and over. Finally, Spider’s character presents some contradictions that are hard to reconcile. He’s portrayed as a sympathetic character, but he kills many men on this voyage and, according to backstory, he must have been a party to the killing of many more earlier, some of them presumably innocent victims of pirate attacks. Despite these negatives, however, the book held my interest to the end.