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


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Cover Art: HMS
          Barabbas
H.M.S. Barabbas
By Ben Jeapes
Climbing Boy Productions, 2019, ISBN 978-1073057450, US $15.00 / UK £11.91
Also available as an e-book


StarStarStarStarStar
The lie. So small, yet it shaped his life and now lays heavy on his conscience. On the day they bury Dr. Livesley, Sir James Hawkins, FRS, MD, puts pen to paper, just as he did many years ago, to confess the truth.

At seventeen – four years after he wrote Treasure Island – Jim embarks on a new adventure. He wants to be liked and respected for who is he, not what he has, and so he follows in Dr. Livesley’s footsteps. With that gentleman’s help, he gains an apprenticeship with a London doctor. The journey to that city necessitates a stopover in Plymouth where he will find passage aboard a ship. But Plymouth is a navy town, and the navy is always in need of sailors. A press gang snatches him off the street, separating him from the papers that will prove his identity and his apprenticeship. Dr. Livesley’s sister and her daughters, in whose house he’s been staying, do their utmost to get him released, but they haven’t sufficient funds or influence to do so.

The officer in charge of the press gang owes a debt to a lieutenant; Mr. Bale offers to forgive the debt if Jim is among those sent aboard H.M.S. Barabbas. Once on the ship, Jim meets Captain Malachi Hands – a man whose very name unnerves Jim since he once killed a pirate of the same surname. While Mr. Bale has his own reasons for wanting Jim close to hand, Captain Hands has a far more sinister reason. He knows exactly who Jim is, what he has done, and what he knows. Pretending to be solicitous to Jim’s situation, he has Jim sign his name to a blank piece of paper and tells him that things should right themselves soon.

Except that they don’t. And Jim realizes that he’s been tricked about the same time he realizes that Barabbas has weighed anchor. Rather than going to London, he’s headed for the West Indies, where the ship is to pursue smugglers. Except that’s not quite true either, and reality proves far more horrible than he imaged. Nor is the crew what he expects. When not tending patients, the ship’s doctor drinks himself into stupors. Anything out of the ordinary results in pain. Only one other lad was bought by Lt. Bale; everyone else was handpicked by the captain; and the entire crew hides a secret – everyone but Jim.

From first page to last, the further adventures of Jim Hawkins ensnare you and, like Jim, escaping proves far more difficult than either of you imagine. Little is what it seems – and just when you think all is right with the world and the end is in sight, another unexpected twist leads you deeper into the bowels of the ship with Jim. H.M.S. Barabbas is a rousing escapade rife with betrayal, treachery, and smugness. On the opposite barb of the anchor can be found friendship, honesty, and humility. The action is gritty and realistic, while the characters are diverse and vividly drawn. Whether you’re a fan of Treasure Island or not, this is a riveting tale where the “pirates” aren’t what you expect and the end suggests a tantalizing promise of more adventures to come. (And the author’s biography is equally intriguing.)

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  Review Copyrighted ©2020 Cindy Vallar

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