In this “splendid tale of high-seas adventure” (Marcus J. Guillory, author of Red Now and Laters), two enemies become the unlikeliest of allies as they fight to save their own lives aboard a hell ship headed into the dangerous unknown.
The Civil War is over, though for Jupiter Smith, a former slave and Union soldier, many battles still lie ahead. He returns to the plantation he worked on before the war in search of his woman, but instead finds his old master gone mad, haunting the ruins like a ghost. Out of pity for the now mentally ill colonel, Jupiter strangles him and heads west to seek a new life in San Francisco.
When the colonel’s son, Confederate soldier Archer Smith, arrives home and finds his father murdered, he vows revenge upon Jupiter for all he has lost—following his former slave to the far reaches of the continent.
But things take a new turn as Archer’s desire for retribution is overwhelmed by his dependency on opium, and he ends up the target of a gang of “crimpers”…the very gang that Jupiter works for in San Francisco. When Jupiter fails in an attempt to save Archer, they both end up shanghaied aboard a ship headed on a dangerous mission and ruled by a merciless captain. Will the two Smiths work together to stay alive and return home, or will they become victims of the sea, the crew, and their mad captain?
Set in 1868, Harrison's second novel, after Our Man in the Dark, is an overly ambitious and complex tale of high adventure as characters lurch from one perilous situation to another. Jupiter Smith, a former slave and Union soldier, now works as a crimper for saloon owner Maggie O'Connell, shanghaiing drunken sailors for unscrupulous sea captains on San Francisco's waterfront. Archer Smith, a former slaveholder and Confederate soldier, is now an opium addict seeking vengeance for Jupiter's murder of his father, a plantation owner. The two men share a last name, a too-obvious tip-off as to their real relationship. Betrayal and bad luck find them both on a ship captained by Barrett, a ruthless smuggler, and bound for China with an illicit cargo of guns. Jupiter longs to find his wife, Sonya, separated from him seven years earlier, and Archer aches for revenge, but their forced voyage together only leads to mutinies, pirate attacks, shipwreck, murders, and miraculous escapes. Harrison provides vivid portrayals of San Francisco's dangerous waterfront and the insidious trafficking of guns and Chinese slaves, but even these historical realities cannot carry this choppy and confusing novel, whose characters never fully elicit the reader's sympathy or interest.