Thieves of Mercy: A Novel of the Civil War at Sea Hardcover – Apr 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
If not quite up to the standard of his best naval historicals, Nelson's second nautical adventure set during the Civil War (after 2003's Glory in the Name) offers a rousing plot and seafaring detail as authentic as any in the Hornblower or Aubrey/Maturin books. In Memphis in the spring of 1862, while Confederate Lt. Samuel Bowater awaits his new command (of an ironclad under construction), he attends to such matters as ghostwriting a dime novel, using the plot of Hamlet, for "Mississippi" Mike Sullivan, captain of the ram General Page, and later taking Sullivan's side when the captain thinks a troupe of Shakespearean actors has plagiarized his work. Meanwhile, Bowater's lover, Wendy Atkins, is trying to escape Norfolk, Va., before the city falls to the Yankees. In this effort, she has the help of her free-spirited Aunt Molly and the hindrance of Union Lt. Roger Newcomb. After making their way out of burning Norfolk, Wendy and Molly have an improbable if diverting meeting with Abraham Lincoln. Civil War buffs, particularly Southern sympathizers, will be well pleased.
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“[Nelson] offers a rousing plot and seafaring detail as authentic as any in the Hornblower or Aubrey/Maturin books.” (—Publishers Weekly on Thieves of Mercy)See all Product Description
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As this is happening, his lover, Wendy Atkins has listened long enough to the US guns advancing on Portsmouth, Va. and has decided to leave the comfort and relative safey of her Aunt Molly's home to find Samuel. She is halted in this hasty endeavor by her aunt who points out the dangers involved in her action as well as her lack of experience and understanding of such matters As she dissolves in tears at the realization of the futility of her quest, Wendy hears her aunt say, "We'll be alright. We'll find your sailor boy." WE? "We" indeed!
Thus begins the parallel stories of the travels and travails of Samuel and Wendy. Either story is probably sufficient for a novel, but placed together, Nelson shows that he is still the master of the art of story telling. Historical accuracy and technical precision are things we have come to expect from his writing. However, all of that is for naught without the talent to spin a yarn and in this one the spinning is pure gold.
We also meet a new and unforgettable character early on. As Nelson introduces him, "It was a month before the burning of the Tennessee and ten hours after he met the man, that Samuel Bowater first saw someone smash a chair over Mississipi Mike Sullivan's head."
Self described as "the hardest drivin, hardest drinkin, most dangerous son of a whore riverboat man on the Western Waters," Sullivan is the captain of the sidewheel ram, General Page, one of the odd lot of vessels that make up The River Defense Fleet. In need of passage to Memphis for his men and himself to take command of his ironclad, Bowater accepts Sullivan's offer to ferry them there.
This is the first of many adventures that they share, but in many respects they cannot hold a candle to the perils that Wendy and Molly encounter. Trust me, there is enough suspense, danger and adventure in these stories to satisy even the most jaded of readers.
Nelson has written numerous engaging stories of The Pirate Round and The Revolutionary War. I believe his Civil War novels are the best of a very good lot.
I am former military and a voracious reader. I love this sort of novel and thoroughly enjoy getting into the story line. The character development and the sense of time and place was well done - HOWEVER, in my opinion, the individuals reacted so inappropriately that I could not past the half way point and put it down in disgust.
One of the heroines is about to be killed by the bad guy, the Dastardly Newcome. The Valiant Wendy, an experienced wartime spy, falls into an unresponsive funk because the Sweet Young Thing Molly has to kill Dastardly Newcome in self-defense at the last moment. And not only does Valiant Wendy go into this shock/funk - she stays there while SYT Molly has to rise to the occasion and get them out of the deserted burning town as the confederacy retreats. YEAH RIGHT!
Then lets top it off with the adventures of riverboat captain Mississippi Mike Sullivan and straight man Confederate Captain Boatwater. The well-written battle scenes and life on the Mississippi during wartime just could not sustain the interactions of these two. It is a comic book trying to be a book and I just could not stomach it. I need enough reality to be able to identify and relate to the characters in a book.
It is seldom that I ever quit a book, but I could not take it any more and LITERALLY threw the book across the room at the trash.
You want to read about the Civil War? Try Harold Coyle, but don't waste you money on this comic book in disguise.
But Thieves of Mercy finds more than ample space for drama on the water, on two fronts; the Mississippi River, and Hampton Roads, VA. I was constantly surprised by historical fact interwoven with the narrative, which added a very satisfying dash to an already intense novel. Nelson can write a naval battle to surpass all others, and particularly sparkling are his descriptions of action in the boiler rooms which power most of his character's ships. Without realizing it, I learned alot about how sailors handled warfare at sea during that era. I was too busy turning pages to reflect on this until his historical note.
I subtract a star only because I ended up craving a larger view of several stategic situations which I didn't initally grasp. the CSS Virginia figures largely into the plot, but I wasn't precisely able to understand its importance to the war at large, particularly as a obstacle to the 1862 Peninsular Campaign. If anything, this will prompt me to read Nelson's nonfiction account, Reign of Iron, in the near future. But overall, this book and its sister Glory in the Name do great justice to the Civil war at sea.
I was not disappointed.
The battle scenes in Thieves of Mercy were intense. It was easy to be transported in the treacherous engine room of the General Page, or on the hurricane deck, waiting in horrified anticipation for the Yankee ram to surge into the crippled boat's side.
This book makes me want to read more of the Nelson's Civil War series, and hope that more volumes will follow.
Author of "The Return"
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