Review: ‘The Boy who Led Them.’ by George Chittenden

2012

Austin & Macauley Publishers Ltd.

One night in 1792 the cutter that ‘The Boy’, Jacob Swift, Swifty, King of Smugglers, was on came under attack from a 70-gun warship in The Channel just off Deal, Kent. She sank and every man aboard died. But not before Swifty sent a message in a bottle telling his gang where the greatest treasure he ever got his hands on was hidden.

Two hundred years later, and an unhappy young boy called Stanley is contemplating how best to survive the school bully when he spots something odd on the beach. His discovery leads him to the town’s old maritime museum and the curator, Reg Cooper, who has a story to tell. Thus unfolds the tale of Jacob Swift, poor fisherman’s son who rises to lead the greatest smuggling gang in Kent. It is a story of loyalty to friends, adventures on the high seas, running from the law, and brandy.

 

The narrative is detailed and colourful, moving along fairly quickly, and the dénouement, the discovery by Stan of a major treasure, and resulting survival of the museum, is fulfilling. The tale of Jacob Swift’s rise and fall is entertaining, if ultimately sad.

The characters of Jacob Swift and his friends are well developed, but the modern day narrator, Reg, and Stan, are flat characters. Their purpose is to tell the story of their antecedents, rather than it being their story. They do not develop at all. There is very little plot; the plot that does exists is merely a vehicle for a more interesting tale. It works, but in a limited sense.

The author is a local historian and writer from Kent; he should know a fair bit about his own county’s history. What I wonder about is his general grasp of eighteenth century history. There are several anachronisms in his text; I don’t think, though I’m not certain, that balaclavas were in general circulation in the 1780’s or that English smugglers would have used litres to measure how much brandy they were importing. Please, correct me if I’m wrong. I mention these because I’d be trotting along happily reading this novel and then I’d be jarred out of the narrative. Also, there were errors of spelling and grammar, ‘along’ instead of ‘a long’ for instance, small things that an editor should have picked up on and corrected. These faults irritated me slightly but didn’t stop me enjoying the essential story.

 

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