Palmiotti (Marine Transportation/SUNY Maritime College; Navigator’s Notebook, 2014) applies his maritime expertise to a historical novel about a cargo ship’s world travels.
Patrick Welch, a young, college-educated seaman in Brooklyn, New York, in 1938, takes a job as third mate aboard the cargo ship York Arrow. The ship’s captain, Van Metre, has a stern reputation, and the crew is skeptical of Patrick’s formal background, but the young man works hard to prove himself and find his place among the tough old hands of the ship. The crew includes the grouchy second mate, a German-American named Richard Shields, and Ruben, a friendly Jewish American who serves as the ship’s galley steward. Patrick easily makes friends with Ruben and others on the ship, but he has a more difficult time with Shields. As they sail for Europe, Patrick hears rumors about the beginnings of a war, and in England, the ship takes on a mysterious new crew member. Ruben worries about his family living in Hamburg, Germany, and is determined to help them however he can. The reality of the Germany that awaits them is, of course, worse than anyone imagined. This simple, clearly told maritime chronicle follows the ship’s travels to Brazil, England, Germany, and elsewhere and also follows another group of characters living in Germany before the ship’s crew meets them. Accordingly, the narration sometimes changes perspectives, and although this is easy for readers to follow when the shifts are delineated by new chapter headings, it may be a bit confusing when it happens within a chapter. Still, Palmiotti has clearly done thorough research into the era’s historical details, although it takes some time for the story to develop and significantly bring its historical context into play. The book also includes ample detail about the workings of the ship, which will be of interest to maritime enthusiasts but might be excessive for the casual reader.
A detailed story that begins slowly but eventually builds into a suspenseful drama.