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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
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Books for Adults - Fiction

The Bloody Black Flag                    The Devil's Wind

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        Art: The Bloody Black Flag
The Bloody Black Flag
By Steve Goble
Seventh Street Books, 2017, ISBN 978-1-63388-359-8, $15.95 / CAN $17.00
E-book $8.95

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All Spider John Rush wants is to see his wife and child in Nantucket, but fate always draws him back to the sea and piracy. Such is the case when he and his friend Ezra reach Boston. To evade the law, they must accept an offer to join Captain William Barlow’s Plymouth Dream. These pirates need of able mariners like Ezra, but they especially prize John’s carpentry skills. Although old hands with the sweet trade, joining a band already formed means he and Ezra are outsiders. Further alienating them from the others is a tattooed man, who knows the blood of a witch runs through Ezra’s veins. Having survived the sinking of a ship on her maiden voyage makes him an even greater pariah.

Unlike other pirate ships, Captain Barlow runs Plymouth Dream with an iron fist. He’s not opposed to listening to others, but he and only he makes the decisions. He puts no store in superstitious drivel, so as long as Spider and Ezra do what is expected, they are welcome aboard his ship.

Soon after they depart New England waters, Spider John finds Ezra dead. The consensus is that his death is the result of over-imbibing and melancholy. John knows there is nothing accidental or suicidal about his friend’s demise, but aboard a ship of cutthroats, only a fool starts slinging accusations of murder around. Spider vows to find the killer and make him pay. Solving the crime with only two clues – knowing the killing device was made from the wood of an apple tree and the silver flask left to disguise the death – further complicates his task, especially since he must find the killer before they reach their destination. To help him in his search, he enlists the help of Hob, the young cabin boy who goes everywhere on the ship without raising undue attention. The more they hunt, the more names are added to the suspect list. As if the fates are amused by Spider’s fruitless investigation, they spice it up with a phantom frigate that doggedly pursues the Plymouth Dream and the theft of a priceless object that Barlow intended to sell to a mysterious Frenchman.

The Bloody Black Flag is the first tale in the Spider John Mystery series. Spider is more a thinker, than a man of brawn and action, although readers who prefer ship chases, boarding prey, and mutinies will find those woven into the warp and weft of this tapestry. The wide variety of characters makes for an interesting cast, all of whom are running away or hiding from something. Figuring out which is the murderer will keep readers guessing until the end, and it may be as surprising to them as it is to Spider. Goble expertly weaves pirate lore into this historical mystery and his gift of words easily transports us back to October 1722 and the deck of the Plymouth Dream.

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  Review Copyrighted ©2017 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art:
              The Devil's Wind
The Devil’s Wind: A Spider John Mystery
By Steve Goble
Seventh Street Books, 2018, ISBN 978-1-63388-484-7, US $15.95 / CAN $17.00
e-book ISBN 978-1-63388-485-4, US $ 9.99 / CAN $11.99

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With John Rush wanted for piracy, Spider John assumes the moniker of John Coombs and signs aboard Redemption, a ship bound for America. He hasn’t seen his wife and son in eight years, and this is his only chance to escape the hangman’s noose . . . if no one recognizes him while still in Port Royal. Odin – a scarred pirate who once sailed with Blackbeard – and Hob – a fifteen year old who’d rather be a pirate than a carpenter’s mate – are his companions. It should be a peaceful journey as long as they keep a fair distance from the navy frigate escorting their small convoy of ships through the Caribbean.

As the ship’s carpenter, John gets to know the Redemption, a captured pirate ship, and her captain, Josiah Brentwood. He’s a decent, trusting man, who assumes each person is good until proven wrong. Sailing with him is his pretty daughter, Abigail, who often dresses as a man. Accompanying them on this voyage is a handful of diverse passengers. Rufus Fox, a Quaker, loves to tinker with machines and is a friend of the captain’s. Reverend Down is the dour-faced minister who is often at odds with Fox. Hadley, a freed slave who works as a crew member, keeps perhaps a too-close watch on Abigail. Anne McCormac keeps to herself, but has some particular skills for a woman and a passing acquaintance with one of the two remaining passengers – Sam Smoke and Wicked Pete Reese – both of him cause Odin’s knees to quake.

On their first Sunday at sea, the passengers and crew gather on the deck for services. A loud gunshot disturbs the peace, and Spider John is one of the first to bust through the locked door into Captain Brentwood’s cabin. He’s dead, a fired pistol in one hand. A navy lieutenant comes aboard to investigate, but his time on board is short since it looks like a suicide to him. Spider John has his doubts. Something was missing when he entered the cabin, but what? And how could anyone kill the captain in a room with the door and windows locked?

As Spider John investigates, Odin and Hob help him uncover secrets held by those on board. It’s dangerous enough having a potential murderer aboard, but the first mate, now acting captain, endangers their lives further during the night. Enamored of Abigail, he wants to please her by laying her father to rest according to his last wishes. Doing so brings them in close proximity to one of the islands frequented by Ned Low and his bloodthirsty men. It also stymies Spider John’s best-laid plan to return to his loved ones.

A locked-room murder has long been a standard in mystery stories, and Goble has created a wonderful version in both a unique setting and detective. All the needed clues are present, but are so deftly interwoven into the tale that they are not easily discernible from the red herrings. Those familiar with golden age piracy may figure out Anne McCormac’s true identity, but unearthing the murderer may stump readers as much as it does Spider John. Solving a puzzle while getting out of sticky situations with the sands of time quickly sifting through the hourglass are the hallmarks of this series, and The Devil’s Wind is perfect for pirates who wish to tax their brains, rather than test their brawn.


Review Copyrighted ©2018 Cindy Vallar

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