Take a long voyage deep into the 18th century with Colleen McCullough, a novelist for readers with a big appetite for historical slices of life. In Morgan's Run
, her mild-mannered hero is a Bristol tavern owner's son with a God-given gift for crafting the Brown Bess flintlock musket. This is handy, because England plans to employ it to put down the mutinous American colonies. McCullough knows this firearm right down to the last flange and frizzen spring--how its .753-inch ball shatters bones and butchers bellies and how you have to work up a mouthful of spit, then bite the paper containing the powder to moisten and rupture it before firing. And like a master gunsmith, McCullough assembles all the elements necessary to give the novel flash and impact: rogues and heroes, salty dialect, period detail, vicious intrigue, comic relief, betrayal, and unexpected romance.
She also knows just how her master of the crafts of tavern-keeping and musket-making would fit into the vast mechanism of history as the American victory wrecks Britain's economy and forces the crown to send convicts elsewhere. Richard gets a job with a rum distillery, but his sharp-eyed efficiency undoes him: one day he finds "a number of pipes hidden among festoons of spider-web," one of which is diverting 800 gallons a week to dodge taxes, a hanging offense. He unwisely reports this, which lands him in a net of corruption. Soon he is sentenced to various convict ships anchored in England, and then to a slave ship bound for Botany Bay in the new penal colony, Australia. But save your pity! Richard rises to the terrible occasion. "Prison had given him a star to steer by, and his own will had swelled sails he did not even know he possessed."
Though McCullough doesn't quite reach the literary heights of Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander or Robert Hughes's The Fatal Shore, she shares some of their virtues. Morgan's Run is a good old-fashioned adventure novel with the unflagging energy and raffish cast of an action movie. She considered calling it Morgan's Dirty Dozen, and it would have lived up to that title, too. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
HMcCullough's narrative skills are fully displayed in this intricately researched, passionate epic of 18th-century England's colonization of Australia, in which an upright Bristol tavernkeeper, Richard Morgan, becomes one of the first British convicts to be sent to the rugged new prison colony of Botany Bay. It is not enough that Morgan is struggling with grief, having lost his wife and two children in three separate tragedies. He discovers that his employer is scamming the government of excise taxes, but when he reports the fraud, he becomes the target of the distiller's revenge. Framed for robbery and extortion, he is arrested and thrown into prisonDa hellish pit of overcrowding, disease and filthDthen convicted and sentenced to seven years transportation on the infamous slaver ships bound for Australia; the success of the American Revolution has closed the New World to England's unwanted population. During the horrific sea journey, Morgan becomes a leader among the men, protecting handsome Fourth Mate Stephen Donovan (called a Miss Molly by the crew), and forging a friendship that will last a lifetime. Once in Port Jackson (later Sydney), Morgan becomes indispensable as a skilled worker and master gunsmith. He is soon moved to spectacular Norfolk Island, where there is fertile soil, food aplenty and happiness in love. Summoning the intimate acquaintance with her native Australian landscape familiar to readers of The Thorn Birds, and the mastery of meticulous detail that distinguishes her series on Roman history (Caesar, etc.), McCullough blends local color, extraordinary characters, ethnic tensions (between Irish, Scots, Welsh and Englishmen), grand descriptive passages and even seamen's thick dialects into a complex, consistently entertaining narrative. The strength and resilience of her unforgettable hero makes this animated tale one of McCullough's best to date. (Sept.)
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