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review 2018-03-22 18:31
Blackbeard: The Birth of America Reviewed By Dr. Wesley Britton
Blackbeard: The Birth of America - Samuel Marquis

Blackbeard: The Birth of America

Samuel Marquis

Print Length: 544 pages

Publisher: Mount Sopris Publishing (February 6, 2018)

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC





Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton


Over the years, I’ve read a number of Samuel Marquis’s historical thrillers. I’ve become a fan who’s happy with pretty much every volume, many of which are set during World War II. Among the many surprises of his new Blackbeard is the time period the story is set in. I’ve never associated Marquis with the early decades of the 18th century or the seas of the Caribbean and the pirates that sailed on them circa 1716-1718.


Another major surprise is Marquis’s portrayal of Blackbeard, the privateer turned pirate. I was surprised to see the pirate always referred to as Edward Thatch and not Edward Teach, the surname I always associated with Blackbeard. Well, Google for both names and both names will come up in multiple entries. Whatever handle Marquis gives his character, few readers are likely to anticipate seeing Blackbeard painted in the most heroic portrait possible, at least for the first two/thirds of the book. 


Marquis’s Blackbeard tries to avoid violence by only attacking ships that offer little resistance to minimize the carnage his crew might endure.   He’s a giant figure, a charismatic leader able to use eloquence to sway his extremely democratic sea-farers to his point of view. The pirates operate within the rules of the “articles” that give every man an equal vote in important decisions and an equal share in any booty. There is no racism.  We see this most evident in the character of Cesar, a former black slave now devoted to Blackbeard.


The pirates’ motives are in part economic, part political, and part a lust for the free life.  At first, pirate captains have charters given to them by royal governors based in the New World to attack Spanish and French ships.  But many dislike British King George from the House of Hanover and would prefer the crowning of James III from the House of Stuart.   For such reasons, Blackbeard’s small but powerful flotilla start attacking British ships in part to rebel against those who are rich and abusive to the common man.   The pirates start describing themselves as “Robin Hoods,” distributing wealth much more fairly than royal charters.


Another major character is Steede Bonnet, a Barbados plantation owner who throws it all away to become a pirate for the freedom of a life at sea despite his less than adequate knowledge of sea-going ways. Woven throughout the scenes set in the Caribbean and up the Atlantic coast, we also spend time on land with Alexander Spotswood, the despotic, vindictive and tyrannical lieutenant governor of Virginia. For Spotswood, capturing Blackbeard is a political move calculated to curry favor in England.  Very unpopular with his colony’s citizens, he suppresses any desires brought to him from the Virginia House of Burgesses that might erode his powers. He despises the new term of “Americans” and, in many ways, embodies the complaints the founders of the United States would fight against in just over fifty years.


So the “Golden Age of Piracy” is portrayed as the precursor for the American Revolution with Blackbeard and his cohorts the real patriots, at least in their own opinion.    In Marquis’s realm, these salty dogs never lacked for self-righteous self-justification. I suspect it’s my own preconceived notions, but I frequently found it difficult to accept the verisimilitude of these noble scalawags. I am perhaps a modern victim of the propaganda that cast Blackbeard as a vicious criminal in Boston newspapers of the time. I was also put off a bit by Marquis frequently repeating his points over and over which seemed like rather overdoing it. Padding?


The book never really builds up a head of steam, at least until the final third where Blackbeard realizes his flotilla has grown too large, that the British admiralty is about to end the age of freebooting piracy, and he makes some turning-point choices very different from what we’ve come to expect from him. Lots of surprises in this fast-moving section of the book.

 Throughout, Marquis’s gifts for description and character development are on full display to take his readers to times and places that, in this case, are captured in ways few of us would expect.    His closing end notes make it clear he sketched out most of this novel drawing from a wide spectrum of resources, many of them of rather recent vintage.


So, from page one to his appendices, unless you too are a Blackbeard scholar, Blackbeard: The Birth of America will be a constantly eye-opening series of surprises. You’ll feel certain you’re learning something as the story progresses. Pirates as the original American revolutionaries? Marquis builds a vivid and convincing case that is so.  



This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on March 20, 2018:


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review 2018-03-21 00:04
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America - Jill Leovy

There are two competing, rather than complimentary stories in this book. Part of the blurb:


Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder—a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another—and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.


The problem is that the "quintessential" American murder she picks is the son of an LAPD detective. Of course they solve that murder. It's absurd that they have to work around their own department to solve this or any crime, but they do it. If it's possible to be more disgusted by the LAPD as an institution, reading this book may have done it for me.


It's clear that Leovy has been charmed by the men with whom she's been "embedded" for a year. At times it reads like glorification of the hardworking, put-upon detectives with complete disregard for the murder victims they are supposed to be serving. The only thing that saves it is the detectives themselves and her increasingly critical eye toward the middle and end of the book.


It's very slow to start as she introduces us to every detective mentioned with a long character study, and only around the middle does "action" happen, but even that action is fairly muted. The personalities are interesting, but I thought of putting it down once or twice. The climax comes with an interview of the suspect in the "featured murder." There are a lot of murders, a lot of statistics, a lot of complaints about the LAPD brass, a lot of passing judgement on the people they police and a lot of surprising love for those very same people.


The sheer frustration of being anyone who isn't related to the police wasn't presented. There are mountains of problems quickly tossed out, some of which could be cleared up fairly quickly if anyone cared to do so (ie, stop melting down guns that are possibly evidence.) Many of the problems are much more intractable though, and like all police departments, the LAPD has a culture that gets in its way more often than not. I wish the urgency had been imparted. I wish the case chosen wasn't the only one solved that month. I wish the problems in getting even the police department to take these homicides seriously had been the entire book. Instead Leovy covers a huge mountain of issues and offers no solutions.

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review 2018-03-20 20:39
Unsettling, entrancing tale of escaping the traps we're born to
Along the Indigo - Elsie Chapman

Disclaimer: Reviewing pre-publication proof via NetGalley


I loved this. Vivid, strong character writing and a fully fleshed-out sense of place from the first page made this an engaging story, and the dark fantasy/paranormal elements, while light, tinted the story with a deliciously creepy atmosphere.


Marsden is saving up to skip town with her 8-year-old little sister before one or both of them get roped into joining Nina's girls like their mom. Their dad died (or killed himself) when she was her sister's age, and their mom started working the not-so-secret nightshift in the boarding house they live in/brothel.


Being pressured toward sex work isn't the only source of Marsden's misery. She's half Chinese in a white, rural American town. Her mother's job - and her likely future - are an open secret, and the predatory, bullying behaviour of her peers and neighbours has her self-isolating to survive. And she can't hear the voices of the dead - despite regularly visiting the covert behind the boardinghouse to strip the bodies of the dead for cash. It's the last remaining piece of family property, a sort of suicide forest, tainted by the murder spree of a mad ancestor.


So there's a lot going on here. The visible minority/POC/mixed ancestry thing is handled well and comes up in Mars & her sister's experience, as well as another boy in town's story. The absent/abusive parent thing is troubling but very well handled, as is the dysfunctional community. And the suicides. There's heaps upon heaps of messed up in this book, but the author doesn't bury you in it. It's an engaging read, atmospheric and challenging without feeling hopeless. It reminds me of Brenna Yovanoff's books, and Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed In Blood just a touch. I think it's set in eastern Oregon or Washington maybe, or one of the prairie/desert states further east of there, but it has more in common with Southern Gothic paranormals. Creepy, foreign and familiar at the same time, unsettling and entrancing. Will circle back to this author's earlier works and follow her future books with great interest. Highly recommended read.

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text 2018-03-17 19:44
Kill Your Darlings Yellow Game - Crime Scene
A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America - T. Christian Miller,Ken Armstrong

I read A False Report by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong tocollect the Dark Tower card, which has been identified in the Yellow game as a crime scene. It's written by 2 American authors.



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text 2018-03-12 19:10
Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy - Christopher L. Hayes

"All the smart people fucked up, and no one seems willing to take responsibility."

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