Ronald Johnson claims to be a distant descendant of Sir Francis Drake. Raised in Antigua, he has big plans to follow in Drake’s footsteps and make his fortune as a privateer. After securing his base on a small uninhabited island in the Caribbean, he sets out to establish himself as a modern-day pirate. He recruits Jemmy, a former co-worker, and Farley, a dread from Jamaica who is happy to put his finger on a trigger. With this small crew, Johnson, having assumed the name King Ronald Drake I, embarks on a campaign of piracy and plunder. His targets: not the galleons of the Spanish Main but the small boat operators and pleasure cruisers that pass through the central Caribbean islands. Soon they have drawn the attention of the maritime authorities, but that is nothing when compared to the Russian gangsters whose boat they have inadvertently ransacked—and who are now out for revenge.
Keith A. Hamilton’s DESPERATION ISLAND is an old-fashioned, no-frills thriller. Though the plot is a touch predictable, there’s plenty of seaborne action. Hamilton’s style is simple and straightforward. There are a few poetic flourishes—plants sway “like a cobra hypnotized by a snake charmer”—but for the most part the prose is unadorned by metaphor or simile. Hamilton writes convincingly of boats and sailing, and sets his dramatic sequences with some skill. Aside from a few clunky dialogue sequences, he keeps the plot moving forward at a solid pace. The writing is less successful when it comes to character-building, with many in the cast seeming one-dimensional. It’s also hard to empathize with a lead character who self-identifies as an amoral sociopath: “He felt there was one right, and that was what was right for him. Nothing and nobody else mattered,” writes Hamilton. An early sequence in which the crew raid their first boat results in the death of its passengers, the boat scuppered and the women tied to the mast as the sea swallows them. Throughout the book, readers will be hoping for the pirate crew’s comeuppance—no matter how much Hamilton has tried to paint them in a sympathetic light.
Keith A. Hamilton’s solidly-written DESPERATION ISLAND (21st Century Pirates in the Caribbean) is an enjoyable, if slightly simplistic, maritime thriller with plenty of drama.
~Kent Lane for IndieReader