cover image Wake of the Perdido Star

Wake of the Perdido Star

Gene Hackman. Newmarket Press, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-1-55704-398-6

Actor Hackman and undersea archeologist Lenihan team up for this joint debut, a conventional but intriguing coming-of-age adventure full of information about early-19th-century diving, salvage and piracy. Young Jack O'Reilly begins the novel as a passenger on the Perdido Star, leaving bigoted New England with his Catholic parents to seek a new life in Cuba, his mother's homeland. Soon after their arrival, the senior O'Reillys are killed at the behest of a wealthy Cuban landowner. Escaping his own death by returning to the Star, O'Reilly takes to the sea as a lowly deckhand, becoming a valued member of the colorful crew. ""An angry young man who despises injustice,"" he is bitter, short-tempered and determined to avenge his parents. On its way from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, the Star encounters a predictable host of nautical obstacles: violent storms, pirates and shipwreck--and also friendly natives who help patch the ship together. Jack matures over the course of the journey, mainly through the tough love of the ship's captain, Quince, and the bravery of another young deckhand, aristocratic Paul Le Maire. Though he becomes known as ""Black Jack"" O'Reilly, the reputed ""scourge of the western Pacific,"" by the end he's been transformed from a hot-headed teen to a respected sailor, willing to use his brain before resorting to his fists. Despite a formulaic plot and predictable characters, the authors do a fine job of blending historical and technical details into their narrative. Of particular interest are sections--including a well-constructed, exciting ending--in which the crew of the Star must learn how to accomplish tasks modern sailors take for granted: how to stay under water for more than a few minutes without drowning and how to refloat a sunken ship. Major ad/promo; Literary Guild featured alternate. (Nov.)