Book Review: The Bloody Black Flag

Title: The Bloody Black Flag: A Spider John Mystery
Author: Steve Goble
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
Publication Date: September 12th, 2017
“On land, he could always feel the looming noose. The crowds, the doorways, the alleys all could hide crouching dangers- an agent of the law, an eyewitness to past misdeeds, or just a man with a knife and a need for bread. On the sea, Spider could see most hazards from a distance, and could meet them with sword and gun in hand if he could not outrun them.”

Setting off from the coast of New England in October 1722, Steven Goble’s newly published historical mystery, The Bloody Black Flag, takes the reader on an adventurous ride filled with superstition and suspense, danger and death.

Goble’s debut, the first in a hopefully long series, opens in media res, with Spider John Rush and his friend Ezra forced back to pirating aboard the Plymouth Dream. But when Ezra is murdered in the black of night, Spider takes a silent vow of revenge and is driven to uncover his killer. On the ship, Spider is faced with investigating a cast of eccentric and dangerous suspects, including the diabolical Captain Barlow, while at the same time fighting for his life on the sea.

Not just “another pirate on the account,” Spider is a complicated but likable hero. Although he prefers peace over piracy and prays before going into battle, Spider’s dark side resurfaces when it is necessary in order to survive. With Ezra gone and no one he can trust until the killer is exposed, Spider is ready to do what he must.

“The fight raged on, with smoke and ripped sails and blood flying, and all the anger Spider had tried to conceal since Ezra’s death slowly welled up in him, until he swung his rusty blade with what felt like demonic force, and wished every man he hacked was his friend’s killer. Spider John had fought many times before but had never slaughtered like this. He both hated it, and found it freeing.”

Steve Goble’s writing is effortless and encapsulates the reader in this historical period without being cumbersome or heavy. With “a vessel full of suspects,” he manages to distinguish each with skillful ease and economy. I could not help thinking that even the minor characters had stories I would be intrigued by.

As a starting point, The Bloody Black Flag is a successful introduction with an appropriate cliff-hanging ending meant to snare its prey like a grappling hook. As I anxiously await the follow-up, The Devil’s Wind, which will not appear on the horizon until fall to winter 2018, I’m left wondering where Goble will steer next. Will he delve back into Spider and Ezra’s past, before Ezra’s unfortunate demise, or have Spider continue his journey? Either way, I will wait. My hope is that Goble will go deeper- more sleuthing, more character development, and more Spider John.

The Bloody Black Flag is an adventurous ride filled with superstition and suspense, danger and death.