Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Book Review: Captain Hawk by SJ Garland

1823. Singapore. The East India Company is at the height of its powers. The Indian mutiny is many decades away in coming. Singapore is a sleepy piss-pot slum on the tip of the Malay Peninsula which has been recently colonised by Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles on behalf of her Majesty, a place which crawls with soldiers, sailors, taverns, pirates and traders, not to mention women of ill repute and easy virtue. Enter Nathaniel Hawk, the progeny of the celebrated Captain Sebastian Hawk, one of the most famous sailors in the employ of the East India Company Captain. Nate is your typical prodigal son. Though talented enough to be one of the best sea captains in the British navy, Nate has chosen a life of gambling and adventure on terra firma. When Nate arrives in Singapore to spend Christmas with his father, he has no intention of changing his lifestyle. Fate however has other plans for Nate who never gets to meet his celebrated Father. Seb’s ship Diligence is attacked and destroyed by a so-called ghost ship and Seb seems to have met a watery grave.

Since Great Britain is at odds with the Dutch, Nate’s initial suspicions fall on the Dutch and it is easy to hate the Dutch sailors in Singapore who had no love for his father, especially Captain Jacob Collaart. An uneasy truce prevails in the far-east between the British and the Dutch and there’s actually a moratorium in place, while a treaty is being negotiated back in Europe.

Once Nate starts the hunt for his father’s killers, he realises that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. The captain of the so-called ghost ship is a master of his craft and the first battle results in the sinking of the Falcon and the death of Buck, its captain. Worse is yet to come. The battles bring back to Nate the ghosts of his previous battles, nightmares he had run away from.

Garland has done an excellent job in conveying the touch and feel of those times. Research, she has positively carried out and Captain Hawk is definitely a period drama. However, Garland’s characters are not stereotypes from Victorian times. Human beings tend to be the same everywhere, across time and geographies and Garland’s characters, as they go about discharging their roles in humid 19th century Singapore, lie, cheat and betray. They are also at times kind and considerate and loyal. Some of Garland’s female characters play a significant role. For example, the much married Maggie loves Masters and Cornelius too. Charlotte Carstairs, who is in love with Edward Bishop, is the narrator of a big chunk of the novel and definitely a woman of substance. When the novel begins, we find that Charlotte’s father William Carstairs has taken a big gamble by not insuring his cargo ship, the Navarch and lost, when the Navarch is sunk by the ghost ship. Edward and Nate are good friends and as the novel progresses, Edward dies. But hold on, Nate doesn’t automatically step into Edward’s shoes, no. Garland doesn’t make it any easy for Nate and that’s all that I’ll say here.

Singapore is a cruel place where brothel-keepers use their own daughters as merchandise and towards the end Nate realises that good and evil are all mixed up. Individuals who he thought were above suspicion are definitely clothed in grey and the answers are not always to his liking. I’ll end here rather than give away the story, but if you are a history fiction buff, like I am, Captain Hawk is a helluva read. Do go for it.

A special thanks to SJ Garland for sending me a pdf copy of her novel.

The book:
Captain Hawk by SJ Garland
Publisher: Maple Kakapo Limited
Published: May 2015
ISBN: 978-0473319236
Pages: 308
Price: $13.00

The Author:
SJ Garland hails from Vancouver Canada and has travelled widely. Currently she lives in Singapore. Garland enjoys skiing, cooking, rugby and sampling wines from around the world. Garland specialises in historical fiction.

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