In this engaging debut novel of historical adventure, the first of a planned series, a man fights the dangers of the Atlantic and a conspiracy of white slave trading.
Jack Light is a surfman—a member of the United States Lifesaving Service, whose members risked their lives to save survivors of shipwrecks off the dangerous Atlantic Coast in the late 1800s. His life turns upside down when he rescues a wealthy young woman named Elizabeth Harrison, from her guardian and abductor, LeFrank, who has designs on taking over her late father’s shipping company. As Jack hides Elizabeth, he falls in love with her and finds himself drawn away from his lifesaving work. LeFrank, his plans thwarted by Elizabeth’s escape, dabbles in further treachery, and slave dealing, in his attempts to take control of Boston’s shipping industry. The story, stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia, has a huge cast, including mysterious men with shrouded pasts, survivors of a pirate attack, and a constable and his associates. However, Schroeder brings the brave surfmen of the Delaware coast most clearly to life, and readers may wish he had lingered longer on them than on LeFrank and his cronies, who never become more than two-dimensional villains. The author is at his best when describing the sea and its dangers: “Air and water, with which the ship had been so intimate, became relatives and friends stoning a sinner to death.” His historical research is often exemplary; he doesn’t shy away from describing the brutal existences of those who live at the mercy of the sea, and he effectively portrays cramped urban conditions among the poor. He also disturbingly, if accurately, describes violence against women, but his female characters show considerable backbone, resolve and strength of character—not as warriors, but as survivors.
A fine historical yarn, sure to appeal to many fans of maritime adventure.