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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
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Books for Adults - Fiction

The Power & the Glory                A Call to Arms                How Dark the Night

Cover Art: The Power & the
        Glory
The Power & the Glory
By William C. Hammond
Naval Institute Press, 2011, ISBN 978-1-61251-052-1, US $29.95 / £18.99

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The third book in the Cutler Family Chronicles opens with a brutal pirate attack on the Mary Beth off the coast of Cuba in 1797. Combined with the prologue it sets the historical stage to providesreaders with the background for what becomes America’s Quasi-war with France in the last decade of the eighteenth century. The real story begins with chapter two, which recounts the arrival of the long-awaited schooner that returns employees of Cutler & Sons and Caleb Cutler, one of the sons, home to Massachusetts after a decade of captivity. On hand to greet his brother is Richard Cutler, who has been invited to meet with Captain Thomas Truxton to discuss a possible commission aboard one of the new naval frigates, the USS Constellation. Joining the navy and the mercantile ties his family has in the Caribbean make Richard an ideal candidate for a secret mission that brings him face-to-face with Toussaint L’Ouverture, who seeks to gain freedom for Haiti from France.
 
Hammond populates his series with historic personages and deftly weaves the history of America’s early navy and the fledgling nation into the story. Even though this is the third title in the Cutler Family Chronicles, it easily works as a standalone title. Although rife with nautical language, he expertly provides definitions and descriptions in such a way that readers comprehend what’s what without having these intrude into the story. If further information is needed, though, he also includes a glossary at the end of the book. At times his command of language is such that his sentences have a poetical flare that provides vivid imagery that remains with the reader long after the story ends.
 
With the skill of a master storyteller, Hammond spins a gripping tale with language that captivates the reader, drawing him/her deeper and deeper into the tale until he/she visits with the residents of Hingham, Massachusetts where the Cutlers live or walks the rolling decks of the Constellation as she sails the open sea. Readers will hold their breath and feel the rapid beating of their hearts, along with Richard and his fellow crewmembers, as a French privateer captures his sloop or the Constellation battles the enemy. Hammond whisks readers back in time on a voyage that takes them from Boston to Baltimore to Port Royal to Saint Kitts to Saint-Domingue to Barbados to the French West Indies. The Power & the Glory paints a dramatic portrait of an oft-neglected period in American history that won’t soon be forgotten.
 

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Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar
 
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Cover Art: Call to
            Arms
A Call to Arms
By William C. Hammond
Naval Institute Press, 2012, ISBN 978-1-61251-144-3, $29.95
Also available as an e-Book

The United States is once again at war – this time with Tripoli, one of the Barbary states. The Cutlers never thought they would have to deal with the pirates again once Richard helped rescue Caleb and others from slavery after Barbary corsairs seized a Cutler ship. With the war, however, Richard must resume his naval career, this time as Captain of the USS Portsmouth, and son Jamie has secured a midshipman’s warrant and will serve under Commodore Edward Preble aboard the USS Constitution.

President Jefferson is resolute in his determination not to pay the tribute the Bey Yusuf Karamanli’s demands. Force is the only way to deal with the Barbary pirates, but the situation changes when the USS Philadelphia runs aground in the Tripolitan harbor and her officers and crew become captives. While Jamie joins Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and others in a daring attempt to destroy the American frigate under the very noses of the pirates, Richard must locate Hamet Karamanli in Egypt for William Eaton, an emissary from Jefferson with a bold plan. Hamet, the rightful ruler of Tripoli, was deposed by his brother Yusuf, who holds Hamet’s family prisoners to prevent him from attempting to regain the throne. Eaton’s plan places Jamie in jeopardy, but if successful, will end the war-peace-war cycle once and for all. But getting Hamet, his followers, European mercenaries, Egyptians, and nomadic warriors to work together with the Americans – and dealing with the hazards of crossing a desert with little food or water – proves far more challenging than Eaton suspects. All the while, diplomats work at cross purposes, which may make all the naval and military actions for naught.

This fourth volume in the Cutler Family Chronicles covers a four-year period beginning in May 1801. Hammond adeptly lays the framework for the audacious invasion that will eventually be immortalized in “The Marines’ Hymn.” He shows what it was like for the sailors and marines, their captains, and their loved ones during the war, and vividly demonstrates how frustrating politicians can be when they interfere in military matters. Readers who have read the previous volumes in the series will enjoy being reunited with characters who feel like family, while newcomers will find themselves cast into a maelstrom of events that are spiced with tears, heartache, joy, and pride.

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Review Copyrighted ©2013 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: How Dark the
                Night

How Dark the Night
By William C. Hammond
Naval Institute Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-61251-467-3, $34.95

 


The fifth book in the Cutler Chronicles opens in the fall of 1805. Captain Richard Cutler’s wife, Elizabeth, is recovering from breast cancer surgery, and he wants to spend more time with her and the family, rather than always being away at sea. His family’s shipping company, Cutler & Sons, as well as C&E Enterprises, an East Indies shipping company in which the Cutlers have a stake, face a dilemma. The United States is a neutral country and believes in free trade, but Great Britain and France are at war and both countries attempt to thwart the other by passing laws that impinge on America’s free trade and the Cutlers’ ships.

France seizes vessels which put into English ports before sailing on to Europe, while the British seize any vessel that fails to heed laws requiring ships to first dock there before continuing onward. Nor does the British Royal Navy see anything wrong with stopping American ships and impressing seamen. President Jefferson proposes a series of laws, known as the Embargo Act, to force these nations to cease and desist, but in actuality will essentially cripple American trade – a vital concern to New England. While some men, including his partner in C&E Enterprises, talk of secession, Richard doesn’t agree. Having served in the US Navy himself and having one son aboard the USS Constitution and another considering a naval career, he cannot condone such treasonous talk. But how will he and his family survive, not to mention the employees of Cutler & Sons, if their livelihood disappears?

The history – including the infamous Chesapeake-Leopold encounter that united the country and nearly sparked a war five years before it actually began – spans a mere three years, but what occurs during this timeframe are essential for understanding how and why the United States would eventually declare war on Great Britain. Woven into this historical interlude are family affairs, such as Elizabeth’s cancer, several Cutler children’s weddings, and the immigration of Elizabeth’s brother and his wife to Massachusetts. Hugh Hardcastle’s experience as a captain in the Royal Navy makes him a perfect candidate to skipper one of C&E’s ships. Richard and Elizabeth also sail to the Caribbean to reunite with other family members, but on the return trip, their new Baltimore clipper is overtaken by pirates. While held captive, Richard meets the leader of the pirates, a Frenchman named Jean Laffite, who confiscates the schooner as a legitimate prize and takes offense at being called a pirate. He is a privateer! Since this is a seafaring family, nautical terms abound, but Hammond also includes a glossary.

As always, Hammond subtly weaves a spell that draws the reader deeper and deeper into the world and lives of the extended Cutler family. Even though we know what the inevitable outcome will be, we’re left gasping for breath or sobbing with tears – that is how powerful the web is that this consummate storyteller spins. He also has a gift for great imagery in his sentences. For example, when Richard  considers what would happen if a frigate attempted to enter the pirate stronghold of Barataria Bay, he likens that frigate to “a stricken shark; its tailfin shorn, being ripped to shreds by a school of dagger-toothed barracudas.” (73)

Although the passages that place the story and events into historical context and perspective may not be appreciated by some readers, Hammond succinctly and skillfully encapsulates the thinking of the time and does so with such clarity that even someone totally unfamiliar with these episodes in our nation’s past will easily understand what was occurring and how these events impacted the people who lived and experienced them. Those readers who are new to this family saga need not have read the previous titles in the series, but after reading this latest volume, the others will probably end up on the to-be-read pile. I highly recommend this book – and a box of tissues – and I look forward to the next episode in the Cutler Chronicles.


Review Copyrighted ©2014 Cindy Vallar


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