In 1863, during the Civil War, Havana, Cuba was a decadent, thriving Spanish slave-trading center and major Confederate supply base. And young American sea captain Everett Townsend is about to discover the horrors and dangers of both.

“Harbor Of Spies” is Camden author Robin Lloyd’s second novel, after “Rough Passage To London.” This is an overly ambitious historical novel of mid-19th century Cuban history, espionage and Gulf of Mexico high seas adventure, offering a colorful and exciting tale of intrigue and suspense.

Everett Townsend finally commands his own ship, a schooner carrying cargo to Havana, when an act of mercy lands him in prison, charged with sedition. To gain his freedom, a corrupt Spanish merchant coerces Townsend to work as a reluctant blockade runner, using his ship to carry contraband arms and munitions to the Confederacy, through the Union blockade and returning to Havana with cargoes of valuable cotton.

Townsend’s boss is Don Pedro Cardona, a rich and ruthless Spaniard who introduces him to the cruel realities of the Spanish slave trade, revealing British complicity in both slavery and support for the South. Townsend is sickened by what he witnesses and agrees to spy on Cardona and his accomplices for the Union.

However, spying is a fateful decision because now no one trusts him — not even his crew — putting Townsend in even greater peril. Pursued by Union warships in the Gulf, spying and lying ashore and always fearful of discovery, Townsend is an amateur among killers. Suspicion leads to betrayal and a timely warning, but time has run out for Townsend and his crew.

Too many plodding subplots, especially an old, unsolved murder, and Townsend’s family connections add pages but little else to an otherwise excellent story of Cuban slavery and Southern blockade-running.



American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) once wrote: “As soon as histories are properly told there is no need of romances.” But Bath author Irene Drago might prove him wrong.

Drago’s debut novel, “Daughters Of Long Reach,” is an ambitious yet charming blend of history and romance set across two centuries and several generations of families living in Bath, along the Long Reach portion of the Kennebec River. This is a shipbuilding, seafaring, family love story, folding in real history and real people, with thoughtful fiction to fill out this clever tale.

Drago tells of four Bath families living during the years 1855 to 2015, and how they are all connected through marriage, births, business and the good fortune of love and romance. Long Reach is the section of the river where Bath’s shipbuilding industry flourished in the 19th century.

The Goss, McGowan and Gannett families were well-known Bath shipbuilders and sea captains, with marriages, friendships and business tying them closely together over the years from 1855 to 1908. The Malone family settles in Bath after years away, declaring the City of Ships to finally be their home. Ellie Malone in 2013 is involved with preserving Bath’s maritime heritage with her efforts to save an old city cemetery from displacement by a state road project. Her work reveals the secret connections of all four families.

The family stories weave back and forth across the years and oceans, as ships are built, men sail away and wives and children remain behind — everyone facing long separations, the fears and hazards, sometimes the hardship, tragedy and heartache waiting.

Skip the corny modern romance in Ellie’s family and just enjoy Drago’s colorful and accurate descriptions of 19th-century marriage customs, social mores and family relationships, as well as exciting seafaring adventures.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell

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