cover image Annapolis


William Martin. Warner Books, $40 (700pp) ISBN 978-0-446-51511-5

Martin is the maritime Michener, charting sweeping historical fictions centering on cities and lands by the sea: Back Bay (1979), Cape Cod (1991) and now America's foremost naval town. The primary protagonists of this multigenerational saga are the Staffords, whose story begins in the 1700s with the adventures at sea and war of the family patriarch, Jedediah. Rivaling the Staffords are the Parrishes, a contentious clan whose support for slavery causes a conflict that lasts for more than a century after Rebecca Parrish crosses the bloodlines of the two families. Martin follows his charges through the Navy's involvement in the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, WW II, Vietnam and into the present. The contemporary conflict between the two families, traced in passages that separate the historical material, revolves around the efforts of filmmaker Susan Browne, a Parrish descendant, to create a PBS documentary about the Staffords. Martin's characters tend toward type, but his historical detail is impressive, peaking in scenes depicting relatively obscure events such as a struggle between several tribes in the Marquesa Islands, witnessed by Jason Stafford in 1813. A storyteller whose smoothness equals his ambition, Martin has written a panoramic entertainment that brings to vivid life the history of the American struggle to control the high seas. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternate selection; simultaneous Time Warner AudioBook; author tour. (June)