cover image The Abduction of Smith and Smith

The Abduction of Smith and Smith

Rashad Harrison. Atria, $25 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4516-2578-3

Set in 1868, Harrison’s second novel, after Our Man in the Dark, is an overly ambitious and complex tale of high adventure as characters lurch from one perilous situation to another. Jupiter Smith, a former slave and Union soldier, now works as a crimper for saloon owner Maggie O’Connell, shanghaiing drunken sailors for unscrupulous sea captains on San Francisco’s waterfront. Archer Smith, a former slaveholder and Confederate soldier, is now an opium addict seeking vengeance for Jupiter’s murder of his father, a plantation owner. The two men share a last name, a too-obvious tip-off as to their real relationship. Betrayal and bad luck find them both on a ship captained by Barrett, a ruthless smuggler, and bound for China with an illicit cargo of guns. Jupiter longs to find his wife, Sonya, separated from him seven years earlier, and Archer aches for revenge, but their forced voyage together only leads to mutinies, pirate attacks, shipwreck, murders, and miraculous escapes. Harrison provides vivid portrayals of San Francisco’s dangerous waterfront and the insidious trafficking of guns and Chinese slaves, but even these historical realities cannot carry this choppy and confusing novel, whose characters never fully elicit the reader’s sympathy or interest. (Jan.)