A Novel of Historic Havana
An extremely well researched and compelling novel combining a story about sailors working aboard ships still under sail and a little known stage of the American Civil War. In 1863, Everett Townsend, a young man recently dismissed from the U.S. Naval Academy for cause and subsequently in disgrace, is captain of a ship owned by his father and sailing to and selling that vessel in Havana. Cuba has become a center for Southern blockade runners to pick up cargoes crucial for the Confederate war effort, run the blockade to Southern ports while evading the Northern navy, and return, bringing a cargo of cotton destined for European markets. It is a very dangerous but very lucrative venture when successful and Havana is therefore a good market to sell ships in.
On the way into Havana harbor, Everett rescues a man escaping unknown danger and swimming towards the ship while pursued by sharks. This good Samaritan action results in jail for Everett with his release effected by a profiteering Spanish merchant who forces him into becoming captain of the merchant’s blockade runner in order to pay the debt owed for obtaining his release from prison. Robin Lloyd’s descriptions of the Cuban world of that period: huge plantations and very wealthy people,extremely poor people and slaves brought from both Africa and Jamaica to work the plantations are riveting and show the reader a world not normally depicted. For the blockade runners there are the dangers of both conditions of the ocean these ships sail on and the equally dangerous possible meetings with Northern warships hunting the blockade runners.
The writing flows rapidly with the reader drawn into the reward of discovering a world that is only 90 miles off the coast of the U.S. and at the time of the story a base for Union warships hunting blockade runners. Two factors enrich the novel. One is the solving of a mystery that has haunted Everett since childhood with the answer found on Cuba, and the other meeting a girl of great interest for him. Both of these situations help enrich the attraction of Lloyd’s novel, keeping the reader glued to the pages.
The ending is well done and logically based on the story told, but fortunately leaving a good deal of factors that could go into another book about Everett Townsend and the world he finds himself in.I hope that this will be the case and I will be looking for those novels when published.
3/18 Paul Lane
HARBOR OF SPIES by Robin Lloyd. Lyons Press (March 1, 2018). ISBN 978-1493032266. 320p.