Blockade Runner by David Kent-Lemon
|Blockade Runner by David Kent-Lemon|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A thrilling adventure set against the American Civil War with a bit of romance mixed in. Without the love interest it would be amazing; with it, it's just very good indeed.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: November 2012|
|Publisher: Claymore Press|
|External links: Author's website|
London shipbroker's clerk Tom Wells is hungry for promotion. Seeking responsibility where ever possible he's still unprepared for a proposition from his employer Mr Pembroke. The company is to operate five cargo ships, shuttling between the Bahamas and America's southern states and he wants Tom to be on board as shipping agent; a dangerous enterprise. Why? It's 1861 and the south is at war with the Yankee north. President Lincoln has blockaded ports like Charleston and Wilmington in the Carolinas in an attempt to prevent revenue-providing cargo leaving or supplies (including uniforms and arms) arriving. Mr Pembroke plans to illegally 'run' the blockade, something not unattractive to Tom partially due to the vastly increased wage attached but mostly because he has a certain interest in a certain American lady.
David Kent-Lemon left his high flying business career to become a historical researcher and novelist but the subject matter for this his first novel arrived serendipitously. The fictitious Tom's employer Edward Pembroke was a real person – the author's great grandfather. He was researching Mr Pembroke for genealogical purposes and discovered that he was the Chairman of the Chamber of Shipping; following this lead uncovered his nefarious blockade running activities. Anyone who was caught alive by Lincoln's navy as it patrolled the ports faced imprisonment and confiscation of their vessel; a quick way to turn riches into ruin. Of course, many didn't survive the initial attack. Out of this amazing piece of family history David Kent-Lemon has produced a book of two interwoven parts as the story unites Tom's high sea and war adventures with Tom's love life. The latter is, perhaps, a little less successfully related than the former.
Amy, Tom's main reason for leaving England, is a combination of feist and femininity with a literary purpose. Through the southern belle's soft heart we understand the slaves' necessity while, like her, not agreeing with the practice. Also Tom's visits to her family and friends form a fascinating window on the land-based war and its effects on the daily lives of ordinary folk. It's well put together (ignoring one or two Mills and Boone sentences, but only one or two). My problem with the amorous side is summed up in one word: Susan.
After their first meeting Susan, Tom's first person narrative foreshadows in a 'if only I'd known then' manner. This is an open invitation for us readers to guess the future connected with Susan and, unfortunately, I guessed correctly throughout. She materialises like a Thomas Hardy nemesis and is as predictable. But please don't allow me to focus on this as it may mean you missing a huge treat.
Tom's high sea adventure is edge of the seat stuff, in some ways providing a marine counterpoint to Bernard Cornwell's Starbuck stories from the same era. The chase sequences show that Wells and his crew (including the wonderful swashbuckling Harry Mansell) are always on the verge of destruction. This is proof that the author can do 'unexpected' brilliantly for, like Tom, we can't foretell when the next emergency will occur. I found one event in particular a finger nail chewer. Also, on land we experience the effects of war, notably a 19th century blitz as a dinner party is shelled, again introducing doubt into the notion that southern man would endure.
Interesting snippets of information are also woven into the story, showing how England was tied in to the South's fate, e.g. via the effects of the 'King Cotton' legislation and American agents working in English harbours. Battle names like Shiloh and Manassas are mentioned in passing but in a way that makes us want to research independently, the conflict being personalised in the writing.
Now comes the scoring bit and I'm painfully conflicted. The excitement, information and suspense that flow from David Kent-Lemon's pen would make this an unarguable 5. However, that woman must be taken into account so, sighing sadly, it gets a 4. I await the next book with eagerness as most of this novel rates up there with Bernard Cornwell but, David, if Susan requests another story line, please, just say no.
You can read more book reviews or buy Blockade Runner by David Kent-Lemon at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Blockade Runner by David Kent-Lemon at Amazon.com.
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