The Devil in Paradise: Captain Putnam in Hawaii (A Bliven Putnam Naval Adventure)

Written by James L. Haley
Review by Thomas j. Howley

In 1817, American naval officer Bliven Putnam is now captain of his own ship of war, the sloop Rappahannock, on duty hunting slavers in the Caribbean. Rising from a young but highly successful midshipman in battles against Barbary pirates, and later against the British Navy in the War of 1812, he now finds himself at the pinnacle of his profession. The U.S. Navy, like the new nation itself, is still small and just beginning to become a major player in world affairs. The captain receives orders to show the flag and deal with a new and different group of pirates on the other side of the world. His home port will be in Honolulu, Hawaii, which at this time is still ruled by its own kings and queens.

Putnam’s wife, Clarity, who plays a dynamic and interesting role in this novel, signs on with a missionary group to travel to minister to the Hawaiians, who seem to welcome this despite their recent history. Her ship beats her husband’s to Hawaii, and she meets him there with their newborn son. But soon he must sail to China and track down pirates along the way, and Clarity is active among the native peoples, who she has come to admire and respect.

I reviewed the first two books in this illuminating and exciting naval trilogy. This one reads fine as a stand-alone, and the reader will not need to play catch-up. As expected I found lots of new fascinating and unexpected details of nautical lore and the geo-politics of the Pacific and Asia of the early 1800s. Yet this time, through Clarity’s eyes, the reader experiences the sometimes loving and but often terrifying culture and history of the original Hawaiians. Here, Haley combines the styles of Patrick O’Brian and James Michener in the highest quality historical fiction.