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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425


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Books for Adults - Fiction

Cover Art:
          Manila Harbour
Manila Harbour
By Martin Granger
RedDoor, 2015, ISBN 978-1-910453-04-9, £14.99, $23.5
Paperback ISBN 978-1-910453-05-6, £7.99, US $12.50
E-book ISBN 9781783017188, £4.99, US$7.99


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After a British captain is found adrift with no sign of his ship, Bagatelle Films decides to produce a documentary on maritime piracy in the Strait of Malacca. This narrow area of ocean between Malaysia and Sumatra is a major route for international shipping and a frequent hunting ground of pirates. They hire Nathalie Thompson, a freelance television production coordinator, to find shooting locations in the Philippines and line up people who agree to be interviewed on camera. One of those people is Captain Peter Ramos of the Philippine Coast Guard. The more background research Nathalie does, the more she realizes this may be one of the most dangerous assignments she’s faced.

A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Peter Ramos has a reputation for hunting pirates. His success has garnered him a new position in Manila, but he soon learns his superiors and the bureaucrats in charge of funding seem more interested in illegal fishermen than the increasing threat of maritime piracy. Cocoa beans, burnt burlap sacking, and a recently-docked vessel belonging to a company that doesn’t seem to exist leads him to believe she’s a phantom ship.* After doing some research, he identifies her as a Russian freighter that went missing three years earlier. With his hands tied officially, he investigates on his own. Just as he finds the proof to tie everything together, he’s conked on the head and thrown overboard.

When Peter fails to show up for an appointment, Nathalie becomes concerned. Her local research assistant helps her to track him down in a hospital. Once she secures his release, they decide to pool their resources to find the pirates. Their only clue comes from the paper trail of a company called Cosmos Foodstuffs Corporation. While Peter hunts through official channels, Nathalie and her assistant locate a warehouse outside of Manila. During a visit to the site, they come across forged documents of a ship matching the description of one that has recently gone missing. Thinking he now has sufficient evidence, including the name of one of the pirates, Peter convinces his superiors to fund an investigation and they set up a plan to trap one of the pirates. Then Nathalie is kidnapped, thwarting his attempt to arrest the pirate. Since only a few people knew of the plan, he also realizes someone within the coast guard is working with the syndicate financing the pirates.

Granger’s thirty years of experience working on documentary films adds realism and depth to this tale. His research on modern piracy and phantom ships shines through. The only misstep comes in referring to the United States Naval Academy, which is located in Annapolis, Maryland, as the “Annapolis Naval Academy.”

Manila Harbour is a gripping thriller so absorbing that an hour can easily elapse without readers even being aware of the passage of time. The story realistically portrays piracy and admirably demonstrates the frustration authorities face in hunting down pirates and untangling the intricate webs the criminal syndicates spin. The ending seems a bit abrupt, although the subplots are all tied up and readers are provided with a touch of mystery. If the piracy and hunt aren’t sufficiently engrossing, Granger mixes in romance, intrigue, betrayal, and volcanic eruptions with exotic locales.

Map showing Strait of Malacca
(courtesy of Wikipedia)
 
Meet the author
 
Review Copyrighted ©2015 Cindy Vallar


*A phantom ship occurs after a crime syndicate targets a legitimate merchant ship to hijack. After finding out everything about the ship, including her cargo, they prepare forged documents and hire thugs to sign on as crewmembers or arrange for pirates using high-speed boats to board her in international waters. Once they hijack the ship and offload or dispose of her crew, the pirates change the vessel’s name and divert her to a different port than was intended, where the syndicate arranges for the sale of her cargo. Then they offer an attractive shipping deal to a trader with a valuable cargo. Once that cargo is loaded and the ship sets sail, her name is again changed, fake papers are arranged, and the syndicate sells the cargo and pockets the money. This process is repeated until the phantom ship has served its purpose or has become too visible, at which time she is abandoned at sea or sunk.

 


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