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Author: T.A. Roberts.

Publisher: The Permanent Press

ISBN: 9781579621971

The Sixteenth-Century sea-faring English explorer Francis Drake is a figure of such historical importance that it’s difficult to fathom that many readers today – most, perhaps – have little or no idea at all about who he was or what he accomplished.

Drake was the portrait-ready face of Britain’s great maritime expansion during the Elizabethan era but he was also the sneering face of savage villainy to many of those whose lands he plundered, or whose people he abducted and sold into slavery (The Scots still revile him for his role in the Rathlin Island slaughter of more than 600 Scottish descendents in Ulster -- many of whom were women and children – in 1575). Whether or not one regards Drake as a maritime military genius and an intrepid, fearless adventurer or a base scoundrel who ought to have been horsewhipped depends almost entirely on one’s geographical perspective.

But whatever one thinks of this brash, infamous brigand (who was knighted for his service to the ever-expanding British Empire), there’s no disagreement that his life was filled with the stuff of legend. He seems a fitting center, therefore, for the sea-borne intrigue and modern-day plunder that fills the pages of T.A. Roberts’ engaging novel Drake’s Bay.

Roberts’ story revolves around a search for the ship’s logs that Drake kept during an expedition along the California coast. The author helpfully provides enough historical detail about Drake and his times to acquaint the uninitiated. There’s also a wealth of information about the topography and the tangled, interconnected sea lanes of the West Coast, and the rigors of navigating those waters, to keep even the most nautically-inclined happy. Roberts has clearly spent a lot of time in the watery parts of the world.

As for what happens on dry land, the story moves forward nicely (after a somewhat leisurely first few chapters), morphing from a story about the life and loves of a desultory academic to a detective yarn about the fabled sailor’s logs that moves from San Francisco to New York to Des Moines to Amsterdam. Roberts paces his chapters well and dangles enough clues to keep the reader on the hook. He has a lean writing style but he’s also capable of turning an eloquent phrase. (The romantic scenes between the sleuthing academic and his on-again, off-again paramour tend to bring out a poetic impulse in the author.)

Francis Drake’s larger-than-life exploits could provide the fodder for dozens of thrillers – fiction and non-fiction, and T.A. Robert’s Drake’s Bay is certainly worthy of its namesake.

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