The Wake of the Woonsocket: The Continuing Adventures of Rory Dunbrody, CSN and Tobias St. John, USN by Les Eldridge, ISBN 978-0-9794847-1-1, Leeward Coast Press-Softocver-$18.95
I must first admit that I have not read the first two installments of Lee Eldridge’s planned
quartet of Civil War sea novels, so chronologically I am coming into the story about halfway through. The Wake of the Woonsocket picks up the adventures of Rory Dunbrody of the Confederate Navy and Tobias St. John of the Union seafarers. Rory is a North Carolina born son of Irish immigrants who also being raised in the old country is extremely proud of his Celtic heritage. His pre-war acquaintance, Tobias, is a Caribbean born freed slave raised and educated in Massachusetts who is a master pilot and seaman.
The third installment has the two mariners involved in some of the major actions of 1863 and their paths even crossing in the midst of the New York Draft riots. Rory acts assists in the design and construction of a new Confederate raider and then sails on her as a Lieutenant on a successful raid of Northern shipping before outfitting a captured vessel as another Southern warship for a daredevil attack on New York City.
Tobias, in the mean time, is involved in espionage and diplomacy in Mexico before taking to sea again hunting the same Confederate raiding ships that his Irish friend sails on. This all leads to a fateful encounter in New York harbor in the midst of a violent anti-black and anti-military uprising.
I really have only brought you up to the half way point of the novel, but I don’t want to give away more of the plot, other to say there are more adventures for both ashore and at sea. Along the course of the book, many historical figures make appearances including Lincoln, Welles, Pinkerton, and DuPont for the North and Lee, Pickett, Mosby and John Taylor Wood for the South. Both characters also have face-offs with the ongoing nemesis Klaus von Klopfenstein, the vengeful aide to Pickett, and the scheming confederate spy hunter Grenville Donovan for Rory, while Tobias crosses paths with the British blockade-runner Bertram Ludlow and the racist fellow naval man Daniel Fell.
In a great move for a fiction writer- author Eldridge includes maps of many of the locales in the story, a listing of which ships mentioned in the narrative are actually fictional and most helpfully- a glossary of nautical terminology as well as Irish and Hawaiian slang to help with the myriad details in the novel.
Stylistically, Eldridge’s story flows smoothly if somewhat detail intensive and he deftly weaves fictional plotlines into historical events. Although it would be beneficial in understanding some of plot to have read the first two installments-The Chesapeake Command and Gray Raiders, Green Seas, I was able to follow the narrative even while wondering how a free black such as Tobias could have such entrée into the world of Union political and military intrigue. Putting that aside, I was quite pleased with the story of the two friends on different sides which is planned to conclude in the fourth installment-The Pride of Pascagoula.
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