The Bloody Black Flag (Spider John)
by Steve Goble
Cover Artist: Prometheus Books
Review by Mel Jacob
Seventh Street Books Trade Paperback / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9781633883598
Date: 12 September 2017 List Price $15.95 / $9.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Bloody Black Flag by Steve Goble is set aboard a pirate ship off Massachusetts. After Spider Jack's best friend is murdered, he vows revenge. However, the crew of the Plymouth Dream offers too many suspects.
Spider Jack never intended to be a pirate. He has an eight-year-old son and a wife he hasn't seen in eight years and sends money when he can. He and his best friend Ezra signed on a whaling ship. As a carpenter, his skill was welcome both ashore and aboard ship. However, when pirates from the Lamia attacked, it was either join them or die. Then a storm put paid to the Lamia.
When the authorities began rounding up the few crewmen that made it to shore for hanging, he had little choice. He had to get away and the only option was another pirate ship nearby looking for a ship's carpenter, so he and Ezra signed on.
Trust is in short supply aboard a pirate ship. After Ezra is killed, Spider Jack examines the crew looking for clues to the murderer's motive and identity. Most are hardened pirates. The tattooed man hates witches and had accused Ezra's mother of being a witch. Dr. Boddings, the surgeon, is a sot and was cashiered from the British Navy. Captain Barlow is a hard man with a secret. Others look like they might kill for a pint of rum or for a fancy flask such as Ezra owned.
The Dream's crew manages to capture another ship, the Loon, carrying a cargo of silver ingots. Meanwhile, they occasionally see a ghostly frigate hovering just out of range. However, something of value is aboard the Dream, but hidden. Captain Barlow is determined to get the missing item back. His efforts lead to a mutiny, and the Captain is killed. The first mate takes over command.
Life aboard the pirate ship is not easy. Spider faces major challenges in identifying the murderer and obtaining vengeance. Desperate sea battles provide distractions and also eliminates some possible suspects.
This is the first of a planned series featuring Spider Jack. Sea-going mysteries offer interesting opportunities for other events besides murder. Smuggling was active in the period leading to the American Revolution, and privateers were valued. However, attacking British warships was to be avoided. Instead, the pirates preyed on merchant vessels. Goble has plenty of opportunity for future Spider John Mysteries.