A Bottle of Rum: A Spider John Mystery. Steven Goble. Seventh Street Books. November 2019. pb, 264 pp.; ISBN: 9781645060031.
Spider John Rush appears in this third pirate novel by Steven Goble. Spider has had enough of the dangers of pirating, never knowing whether he will be caught, tortured and/or hung. He longs to return to Nantucket to live with his wife Em and his son Johnny whom he has not seen since he was a baby. For now he’s sitting in a tavern with his friend Odin when trouble brews. The owner of the tavern does little work and it’s his wife who carries the burden. The night when Spider is having a drink is the one in which the owner of the tavern is murdered. Spider promises to find the killer or killers. He just can’t seem to escape trouble wherever he goes. For the knife sticking out of the neck of the tavern owner is the one Spider had made and given to his pirate friend Hob. So now Spider is determined to find Hob as well as the murderer(s).
Spider and Odin are led down a trail of smugglers and attacking knaves to a madhouse being run by some land-lubbered former pirates. A young woman challenges them and it is clear she is suffering from some form of madness as she’s totally obsessed with death and torture. Experiments are being conducted on the patients in the madhouse, ones that frequently wind up in the death of those patients. Is it from poison, amputations or some other evil? Hints are later given that the experimenter is trying to locate the “soul” of individuals. The story will develop to the point where Spider and Odin find Hobs but must make a dangerous escape. The mystery will be solved but not until Spider and Odin have been treated as spies and traitors, thereby earning multiple attacks and wounds that were just as horrible as what they had suffered when out at sea as pirates. It’s still a hard and dangerous life they are living but they are now seeking justice and mercy out of compassion and not crime.
Spider is at heart a funny, wise and caring individual whose personality is depicted in a way that immediately engages the reader. One wonders why there’s a touch of evil and insanity in former pirates but recognizes that there are some good souls among them worthy of admiring and rooting for. Taverns are not only sources of satisfying drinks but also unexpected but probable fights.
A Bottle of Rum is a fascinating tale that puts a new twist on Spider John and his friends and enemies. Nicely crafted, Steve Goble!