The Bloody Black Flag is both a murder mystery as well as rousing pirate adventure. I’ll look at the historical adventure aspect of the novel here. The mystery component I review at Gumshoes, Gats, and Gams.
The story opens in October 1722. Spider John and his friend Ezra, fleeing from the British Navy, have given up their attempt to establish honest lives on shore and are returning to a life of piracy, or going back on the account as they would say. They sign up with Plymouth Dream, a pirate ship captained by the despotic Captain Barlow. Unlike most ships, where the crew votes on all decisions except during combat, when the captain has absolute authority, Barlow rules with an iron hand at all times.
Barlow is sailing for Jamaica, which suits Spider and Ezra just fine. Trouble comes during the first night, when one of the crew murders Ezra. Spider John swears to find the murderer and kill him, but he has more immediate problems, such as staying alive himself. Before his death, Ezra was recognized by one of the crew and accused of having witchblood because of his family history. The same accusation could be made against Spider, so he has to keep a low profile while he pursues his investigation, pirates being a superstitious lot. Fortunately, his role as the ship’s carpenter gives him a reason to move about and talk to the other pirates.
It doesn’t take Spider long to figure out that Plymouth Dream is not your typical pirate ship, and not just because of the way things are run. Barlow, the first mate Addison, and the second mate are hiding secrets. They have a small item they intend to sell in Jamaica to an agent of the French crown. When the item goes missing, Spider finds he’s shipped out on the pirate ship from Hell. Continue reading