William H. White,
The War of 1812 #3: The Evening Gun
(Tiller, 2001)

It's a shame when a promising writer with a good story to tell doesn't get the editing he deserves.

William H. White knows his history, and The Evening Gun -- the third book of White's War of 1812 trilogy -- continues the adventures of Isaac Biggs and his shipmates in the naval defense of America. Unfortunately, the pleasure of reading the tale is diminished by some simple repetitions that a good editor should have caught.

How many times must readers be told that Jack Tate is a blond-haired, one-armed Bayman? Quite a few, apparently. How often must we be reminded that Jack Clements is Biggs' "friend and former shipmate" and "former bosun"? A lot. And don't worry if you miss a key plot point while reading; chances are good someone in the story will recap the event in just a few pages.

Like I said, it's a shame, because otherwise White's novel is a much-needed entry in the naval genre. In a rich and fast-growing literary tradition, the American navy in the Age of Sail is quite often overlooked. The War of 1812 is rarely a topic of discussion. And the desperate defense of young America's coastal waterways -- which, undefended, would have given the British easy access to key points in the Mid-Atlantic region -- has rarely to my knowledge been the central focus of a novel.

That said, The Evening Gun is the slowest-paced of the three books in this series. Much of the time is spent simply waiting for the British to do something, or talking about what the British might do, or complaining about the lack of defenses when the British overran Washington. More is spent in an extraneous romance -- I suppose all hero sailors need a girl waiting in one port or another -- and frequent reminders that Clements' big, ugly dog doesn't like the British. A first-hand perspective on the assault on Fort McHenry and the writing of "The Star Spangled Banner" is, on the other hand, a nice touch.

White, himself quite experienced as a sailor, knows his subject and paints an interesting tale. It's just too bad he didn't get more help in preparing the text for public consumption.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

3 April 2010

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