Thursday, August 6, 2015

Book Review: Decatur's Revenge

Title: Decatur's Revenge

Author: Edwin P. Hoyt

Publisher: Pinnacle

Date: 1975

Length: 180 pages

Quote: “Stephen Decatur...recently commissioned Lieutenant Commander, strode the small quarter-deck of the schooner Enterprise and wondered how he might wreak his revenge on the Bashaw of Tripoli.”

In the grand Hornblower tradition, of course. This is an old-style adventure story for middle school boys, with battles, blood and thunder, some probably authentic information about ships and the state of the U.S. navy in 1804, some swearing, and an occasional pretty girl but no mushy romance. Edwin P. Hoyt was a reporter first, then became an historian, so the chances are that at least he knew how historically accurate this novel might have been.

Fair enough...except that there was a real Stephen Decatur, and when a novel begins with the notice that “any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental” I think readers have a right to expect that its major characters will not have enough resemblance to real people and events to share their names and biographies. A novel about a fictional Stephen Decker or Stewart Decatur is all very well, but if a novel purports to be about the adventures of Stephen Decatur in 1804 its plot needs to stick to the facts about the real Stephen Decatur who was active in 1804.

Y'know what? I don't care enough about sea battles in 1804 to look up how much of this novel is fact and how much is fiction. My opinion of this novel is low. It's one of that truckload of fiction we acquired in the "Big Haul" and although I've previewed it, and found it to be free from pornography and contain only the apparently standard levels of gore and profanity, such that middle school boys could certainly find worse things to read, I would not buy Decatur's Revenge as a gift for a middle school boy. I recommend it to someone who is interested enough in naval history to tell me where the facts end and the fiction begins. That person might be able to use this story to stir up students' interest in naval history and the War of 1812. I say good luck to him and let him have it.

This is a pocket-sized paperback book; you could fit eight copies into the package the U.S. Postal Service was handing out the last time I mailed out books. $5 per book + $5 per package, and although Decatur's Revenge is not a Fair Trade Book, it would fit into a package with almost any of the books for which we could send money to a living writer. Payments may be sent to either address in the "Contact" box at the bottom of the screen.