THE BUCCANEER COAST: BLOOD, STEEL, AND EMPIRE, BOOK I by James L. Nelson; Fore Topsail Press, 2021; 340 pages, $14.99.


Pirates have been around for a thousand years, romanticized by novelists and Hollywood, but the reality is that none of them were ever like wise-cracking Captain Jack Sparrow. And Maine writer James Nelson’s first volume in a new series reveals just how brutal and sadistic sea robbers really were in the 17th century.

Nelson is the award-winning author of two dozen books, fiction and nonfiction, with exciting stories about Vikings, pirates and colonial naval warfare. His historical fiction is well-known for accuracy, realism and intricate storytelling. They all offer fascinating history lessons, and this new tale is probably the best historical presentation of the 17th century Spanish Main, imperial conflicts, treasure galleons and the early seagoing formation of the buccaneer scourge that spread terror throughout the Caribbean.

The year is 1629 and Jean-Baptiste LeBouef survives on the northwest coast of Hispaniola (think Dominican Republic) as a “boucanier” (buccaneer), killing pigs, then selling the smoked meat to passing ships. A devastating hurricane delivers an abandoned vessel to Jean and his fellow buccaneers. These men are outcasts, criminals, deserters, waterfront dregs with gold, rum and women as their scant currency. And only Jean knows what’s really hidden inside the vessel.

Don Alonzo de Aviles is the newly appointed lieutenant governor of Hispaniola, headquartered in Santo Domingo. He is a lying, scheming, corrupt opportunist seeking only power and fortune, in cahoots with a notorious smuggler. He wants that abandoned ship and will do anything to get it.

Betrayal, treachery and killers stalk both men, each seizing an advantage while trying to avoid assassins, Spanish cannons and bloodthirsty pirates who show no quarter to their victims. This is a rousing pirate story loaded with suspense, intrigue and bloody action, while providing an outstanding history of Spanish, French, English and Dutch rivalries in the Caribbean.


OPERATION: MIDNIGHT by Rick Simonds; Chase Lane Publishers, 2021; 308 pages, $15.99.


Being a waiter at a high-end New Orleans restaurant is a sweet deal for Lonnie Clifford — good money, big tips, a generous boss and a waiter’s act that makes him a popular novelty with customers. Then a creepy stalker tells Lonnie his life is in danger. News like that can spoil the mood.

“Operation: Midnight” is Brunswick author Rick Simonds’ third suspense novel after “Blood Code” and “Blood Sport.” The first two novels involved cops and crime; this one is more cerebral and complex, and includes illegal government experiments, an insidious cover-up and people willing to kill to find Lonnie.

Simonds spins a good yarn, but readers beware: This is a much more complicated plot than the first two books, and will require careful, deliberate reading to keep up. The stalker is a frightened government scientist on the run with a briefcase full of stolen top-secret files about deadly experiments to create genetically manipulated super-humans. Apparently, two of these “super babies” already exist and somebody thinks Lonnie is one of them, and that’s what makes him a target.

Oddly, for a young 21-year-old man who is so smart (math whiz, speaks six languages, remembers everything), Lonnie is actually pretty stupid and naïve. He talks too much, is too trusting, blabs to the wrong people, can’t spot a liar, and doesn’t see obvious signs of deceit and potential danger (the reader will see all of them, but Lonnie won’t). He walks right into trouble.

Surprising family relationships and unexplained wealth become suspicious, and two intricately coded letters lead him to more questions than answers. And Lonnie finds himself relying on a dishwasher, a golfer and a waitress to save his skin. Surprisingly, even the FBI appears inept at the end.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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