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Books for Adults - Fiction

Cover Art: Blue Water,
          Scarlet Tide
Blue Water, Scarlet Tide
By John M. Danielski
Penmore Press, 2016, ISBN 978-1-942756-96-5, $21.95
e-book ISBN 978-1-942756-97-2, $8.50


Royal Marine Captain Thomas Pennywhistle swims ashore in July 1814, to rescue a captured lieutenant who is scheduled to hang as a spy on the morrow. He succeeds in the endeavor, but not without cost, and the result adds to his haunting memories of war. Fighting had never been his goal, but an incident during his days at medical school forced him onto this path Ė one at which he is very good. Thus his next mission is to find a suitable landing site along the Chesapeake Bay for British troops from Admiral Cockburnís flotilla. Unlike last time, heís determined that the slaves who help him will secure their freedom.
He and Gabriel Prosser meet at a pre-arranged rendezvous near the Patuxent River, but are unexpectedly interrupted by four men. These Marylanders have come to move hidden gold, and from them he learns that they are responsible for the loss of a missing ship and her crew. Pennywhistle recovers the British payroll, locates a good place to land soon-to-arrive regiments of veteran infantry, and arranges to meet Gabriel at an extraction point. But a posse of slave hunters, with their hounds, track down the runaway slave, only to find themselves led into an ambush.

As the landing time nears for the British troops, Pennywhistle and his scouting party head toward Bladensburg, Maryland. One of their first objectives is to locate the U. S. Navyís flotilla of gunboats Ė perhaps the only real impediment to the British advance on Washington. Like an unevenly balanced scale, war pits success against failure, each with its own consequences. This time an innocent soul deepens the indelible wound in his psyche, yet also brings him face to face with his doppelganger, an American Marine.

Captain John Tracy should have killed the British officer rifling through his papers, but is astonished to find himself looking at a man who could be his twin. Although the similarities are too close to be coincidental, he vows to avenge the slaying of six-year-old Molly. Duty must come first, however, and with the British on the march, he prevents them from using the flotilla against his fellow Americans. Then he must locate his commander to report what he knows. On the way to Washington, he encounters a group of drunken teens shooting at Redcoats as they come ashore. His conscience forces him to act, so he launches a daring rescue to save at least some of the lives of these miserable wastrels.

In the ensuing pages of this tale, which takes readers up to the moments before the Battle of Bladensburg, readers accompany the British as they endure marching through enemy terrain in wool uniforms on hot, humid, summer days. They witness surprising and bloody encounters with American marines and inexperienced militia, including an attack from the air in a hot-air balloon and an audacious escape through enfilading fire. They also experience the same frustrations and astonishments as Pennywhistle and Tracy when they encounter the stunning ineptitude of American leaders. Not to mention the startling, yet refreshing, introduction of a frontier sharpshooter, who almost succeeds in taking down Pennywhistle.

Most chapters in this third book in the Royal Marine Captain Thomas Pennywhistle series are of average length, but several are between twenty-five and forty-seven pages long. Readers will encounter occasional misspellings and missing words, as well as several instances where certain phrases may pull the reader out of the story. For example, in 1814, Washington is known as Washington City, rather than Washington, DC (45), and while the effects of adrenaline (415) are familiar, the word itself isnít coined until its discovery in 1901 by a Japanese chemist. The inclusion of salicylic acid as the active ingredient in aspirin (106) also intrudes into the story.

On the other hand, Blue Water, Scarlet Tide is a thought-provoking and you-are-there recreation of the days leading up to the British invasion of our nationís capital. Most of the action takes place on land, but a few water encounters provide edge-of-your-seat thrills and heart-stopping action. The story provides readers with a good understanding of the differences between the two armies and ably showcases the contrast between militia and professional soldiers.

Danielskiís strength in crafting stories lies in his knowledge of history and experience as a historic interpreter. These skills allow him to transport us back to a crucial time in the War 1812 to find ourselves marching alongside the troops, experiencing the scratch of wool against sweaty skin, the constant biting of insects, and the throat-parching thirst of trekking along dusty roads under a brutal sun. He also conveys with keen insight the physical and psychological toll war takes on men, especially those who have engaged the enemy for more than a decade. Interwoven through Tracyís story is a curious mystery about a secret organization that could lead him down a traitorous path. For Pennywhistle, there is an alluring, but highly impractical (the captainís conclusion, not mine), romantic twist. And then thereís the intriguing thread regarding an occurrence in the distant past that somehow unites these two men in the present. It is hoped that the fourth installment in the series, Capitalís Punishment, will provide resolutions to these storylines as the author once again transports us back to the fateful battle that preceded the burning of the White House.

Review Copyrighted ©2017 Cindy Vallar
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