Book One of the Brethren of the Coast trilogy, featuring Thomas Marlowe
With the bounty from his years as a pirate - a life he intends to renounce and keep forever secret - Thomas Marlowe purchases a fine Virginia plantation from a beautiful young widow, Elizabeth Tinling. Soon afterwards, while defending her honour, he kills the favourite son of one of the colony's most powerful families in a duel. But in a clever piece of manoeuvring he manages to win command of the Plymouth Prize, the colony's decrepit guardship, and is charged with leading the King's sailors in bloody pitched battle against the cutthroats who infest the waters off Virginia's shores.
A threat from his illicit past appears, however, as an old pirate enemy plots to seize the colony's wealth, forcing Marlowe to choose between losing all - or facing the one man he fears.
The initial entry in Nelson's The Brethren of the Coast series (after his Revolution at Sea trilogy) is first-rate popular action writing. In 1701 Virginia, Thomas Marlowe kills a favorite son of the colony's most powerful tobacco family, the Wilkensons, in a duel, incurring the wrath of the entire clan. Soon after, when he's given command of the colony's guardship Plymouth Prize, Marlowe must deal with the Wilkensons' vendetta, the Prize's decrepitude and inept crew, and his fascination with beautiful widow Elizabeth Tinling (whose honor precipitated the duel), before getting around to his main job, fighting Chesapeake Bay pirates (who call themselves "men on the account" and "Brethren of the Coast"). Marlowe, n Malachias Barrett, we learn, was himself a member of "the sweet trade" (i.e., a pirate). The lovely Elizabeth isn't what she seems, either. The only man in the world Marlowe fears is his ex-captain and current leader of the Brethren, Jean-Pierre LeRois, whose cruelty and cunning are fueled by blazing dementia: "His crew were still screaming, he could hear them, though he could not actually see anyone's mouth moving." The brilliant descriptions of LeRois's spells make it plain that his craziness is caused by drink and an advanced venereal condition. Lots of plot twists, some nifty seamanship and a nice collection of secondary characters add ballast to the narrative. There's a bit of sex and some sly wit as Marlowe tells Elizabeth about "careening" a ship: "`First we strip the vessel of all of her top hamper," he begins, and ends: "We cause her to roll on her side and thus expose the bottom." Of course, there's a climactic one-on-one between Marlowe and LeRois before Marlowe can become a hero. Despite the general absence of daily colonial texture, readers will gladly be swept along by a wonderful plot. Ad/promo.