William Crooker & Elizabeth Peirce,
Saladin: Piracy, Mutiny & Murder on the High Seas
(Nimbus, 2007)

The Saladin was a cursed ship, there's no question about it.

But this story of greed and treachery begins on the Vitula, a merchant ship from Liverpool that rounded Cape Horn and, led by the avarice of its Capt. Fielding, attempted to pillage a Peruvian island of its fertile and valuable guano supply. Captured by Peruvian authorities, Fielding -- along with his 12-year-old son, who was suffering through his first voyage at sea -- managed to escape justice aboard the Essex, which got him as far as the port of Valparaiso, Chile. There, Fielding sweet-talked his way into passage back to England aboard the Saladin, commanded by Capt. MacKenzie, whose cargo was extremely valuable and whose brutality matched Fielding's own.

Once underway, it was easy enough for Fielding to spread dissension among the ship's small compliment of sailors and foment mutiny. MacKenzie, his officers and loyal crew were killed, and the remaining handful set a course for Newfoundland to dispose of their booty. But Fielding still thought there were too many survivors to share the profits; his plans to eliminate a few were uncovered, however, and he himself -- along with his blameless son -- were heaved overboard to perish. The six remaining crewmen drank their way along the North American coast, finally running aground off the coast of Nova Scotia, where they were arrested and tried for murder.

It's a fascinating story, one that seems almost too incredible to be true. William Crooker, an old hand at pirate stories, unfortunately died before completing this one; Elizabeth Peirce finished it. The pair of writers tell the tale at a brisk pace, enlivening the narrative in this slim volume with enough dialogue and personal details to make it read more like a novel than a historical re-creation.

Anyone who enjoys adventure at sea should grab this book, which presents a gripping chapter of maritime history with seasoned flair.

review by
Tom Knapp

5 January 2008

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