Forgotten Valor

Forgotten Valor, Book 1 of the Jonas Stuyvesant Saga, an e-book published, copyright and written by Richard Thomas Lane.

Plot: Jonas is part of the privileged class. His brother is an army major who began his active career in action as a 2nd Lt. Platoon leader. His father was a combat veteran of WW II. Together they have considerable ‘weight’ in Washington. His mother was greatly disturbed when he announced he was going to enlist directly after graduating from high school. Persuaded by his brother to attend college and participate in ROTC, he finally graduates, gets married to his childhood sweetheart and is about to be assigned to a stateside desk job engineered by his influential military family. He attends a masked ball, has the temerity to ask an attending General to be assigned to the line instead, and is successful just as the Korean ‘Police Action” is initiated. The story progresses through those early days of that war before the US could bring sufficient troops, ammunition, medical facilities and everything else necessary to stop the northern troops with their insane bugle-blowing charges that sacrificed endless numbers of their ranks to gain a decided upon objective.

Discussion: Fundamentally a war story, it follows a young, combat naïve ROTC graduate as he is thrown into brutal conflict on his very first assignment and of his gradual development with the help of his master sergeant and the sergeant’s corporal friend with whom he had seen much action during WW II. In fact, Jonas character development is a little ‘light’ by comparison. His wife briefly is pictured as typical of her ‘class’. A nurse plays an abbreviated role, and members of his platoon are adequately presented. A North Korean officer is well portrayed as a counter protagonist. The action is constant and description of the terrain, the miserable conditions especially during the heavy rains, and more explicitly of the bloody destruction resulting from such viciously deployed action are well portrayed. The specific action often required by individuals in desperate combat situations is set forth in explicit detail. This is a more realistic descriptive novel of the early days of the Korean War than any previously encountered by this reviewer. Probably, as titled, because it was an unpopular war that treated returning veterans quite poorly and thus more probably has suffered from a general desire to forget it. If a reader likes war stories this definitely is for you.

4* Well done first book of a purported series.

The California Run

The California Run ISBN: 9781946409553, Penmore Press, a historical e-book copyright and written by Mark A. Rimmer.

Plot: Achilles, a newly commissioned clipper ship sets sail from New York to Frisco with a Whaler Captain, who also was a Quaker, in charge. His daughter, Emma, who has accompanied him for several years and is an experienced seaman, is with him. He has a quite brutal 1st Mate and a 2nd Mate, Nate Cooper, who is a young experienced seaman but is in his first, somewhat insecure assignment as an officer. The ship is to depart for San Francisco at the same time as a similar ship, Sapphire, captained by Jonas Blunt who has made the journey before but seemingly is quite addicted to alcohol. No similarly destined cargo ships have left New York in several weeks so not only will the first arrival gain the best prices for their cargo, but also will win for the owner a sizeable bet made with the owner of the other clipper. The story, following mostly Achilles’ journey in the dangerous trip ‘around the Horn’ (the southern tip of South America) is fraught with problems of weather, tides and similar indigenous to the journey, but also sabotage, murders and a mutinous crew. Nate and Emma are forced into most unusual positions and the competitive race becomes a tightly contested one. A number of other interestingly portrayed characters also aid the plot: Sarah Doyle, formerly Lady Thompson’s maid who was supposed to await the next ship but instead assumes the position of her former employer; Henry Jenkins a man whom she has duped out of his money, who becomes a crewman on the Achilles after being shanghaied: Gideon whom the unprincipled owner of Sapphire, Thaddeus Oglesby, has made sure for his inclusion in Achilles’ crew for the purpose of sabotaging it so his ship Sapphire can win the race; Thomas, Oglesby’s incompetent son; a bordello owner with 3 of her girls; a brutal 1st mate and other crew members that play interesting parts in the tale. This is a story replete also with abundant details of the structure of the old ‘square riggers’ and their handling in various seas, currents, fog and wind.

Discussion: This tale of a race between two clipper ships from New York to San Francisco in the early days of the ‘gold rush’ when Frisco still was Yerba Buena is a fascinating tale on several levels. At this particular time supplies were short and the residents of Frisco were largely dependent upon those that could be brought by these ships. These newly designed ‘greyhounds of the sea’ could make the journey from New York to Frisco in 100 days and were much in demand. Unfortunately, upon arrival the crews mostly would ‘jump ship’ to attempt to enrich themselves in the gold fields. Resultantly, Frisco harbor was literally overfilled with empty ships unable to obtain sufficient crew to return for another run. The only way sufficient crew members could be obtained was by ‘Shanghaiing’ them. A ship’s captain could pay a combine of bar owners who would drug the drinks of patrons and waterfront thugs who then would deliver them aboard the paying ship. More frequently than not these individuals knew nothing about sailing but were forced to learn rapidly by brutal first and second mates. The author, as “presently one of only a handful of captains worldwide who is qualified to command a fully-rigged ship the size of the clippers” is eminently qualified to write about these ships and does a remarkable job of interspersing fascinating ‘lessons’ into this well-plotted story. Only two caveats must be provided. The story’s early description of shanghaiing crews is so intertwined with the Yerba Buena details that at least this reader was momentarily confused as to the point of departure of the ships. Secondly, many of the details of the vessels, seamanship, weather, tides, use of the sextant and similar material may be a little too pedantic for some readers. However, and parenthetically no doubt, as one who has done a considerable amount of sailing and also made a ‘trip around the horn’, I found the discussions of use of the sextant, tides, winds and points of reference especially fascinating. Unfortunately, or perhaps most fortunately because of the weather, my Horn trip was made in a relatively large motor vessel, but it was enough to bring each feature presented quite sharply to mind.

Conclusion: A totally fascinating historical tale that should appeal to anyone who enjoys sea stories of the period and even more so if you have sailed and/or had the opportunity to ‘go around the Horn’.

5* Fascinating tale of the Clipper Ships; regrettable caveats for a few readers.