The Devil’s Admiral

The Devil's AdmiralThe Devil’s Admiral by Frederick F. Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To suggest the devil has but a single admiral would be to tax the bounds of credulity, but there are swaths of this story that do just that, so maybe the title is just a portentous teaser. On the other hand, a great man once said, You can’t fix stupid, but if this story holds any water (no pun intended), you can use it to unscrpulous advantage.

The story is a narrative by a man named Trenholm, a war correspondent in what was apparently World War 1 given the time frame that the book was published, although the war itself had little to do with the story. Trenholm had just shipped into Manila, and was immediately ordered to Hong Kong, so he looked for the first barque out of town. In the meantime, he delivered a letter to the Russian consul there as a favor for a friend that caught the attention of a missionary, Rev. Luther Meeker. The good reverend and his red headed goon soon attach themselves to Trenholm to the point of suspicion, but our crack war correspondent just took it as an annoyance. Well, woe to him.

Between the time Trenholm books a room on the Kut Sang to Hong Kong and the ensuing few hours after, Meeker and his cohort try everything to keep Trenholm from getting on that ship. They failed in their attempts, and wouldn’t you know, Meeker himself was a passenger on board as well. But it gets better. The red headed dufus that tailed him around Manila suddenly shows up and offers to carry Trenholm’s bags aboard. Okay, nothing suspicious about that, until you realize that this guy was spying on Trenholm outside his hotel room and would have gotten his ass kicked had he caught him. Getting tripped up by Meeker on the stairs allowed red to escape. So what is Trenholm’s response to the revelation of having these two, not only spying on him, but actively trying to prevent his boarding the Kut Sang? He has lunch with the guy! Oh, but it gets better. Passing a bar, he sees that a man has been murdered at the doorstep. One witness says he saw a red headed man running from the scene. Yes, a red headed man in Manila. Now Trenholm suspects that this thug may have killed someone, but when it came time to load those bags on board the ship, he not only was okay with that, but actually paid the guy for the honor! But no, it gets better! One of the crew of the Kut Sang gets accused of the murder, leaving a crew opening for-you guessed it, the red headed goon. What luck!

The story wasn’t bad, but the dearth of improbable set ups (such as the one described above) made me wonder if stupidity was the order of day. Meeker was so annoying that it was a wonder anybody would want to talk with him, but not only did they, he was able to extract information that any stranger would be hard pressed to extract. Meeker is so unlikeable that I almost wish he wasn’t in the story. Pretty sure the author did not intend that kind of acrimony from the reader. But he was in the story, but at this point he wasn’t himself.

After a stabbing on board the Kut Sang, Trenholm ends up a suspect, although Meeker was in the area literally minutes before the body was discovered. Hello? Not only was Meeker not a suspect, he actually became one the inquisitors, walking over the captain like he was a deck hand. Ahh, fiction.

Trenholm had skills though. He was able to not only escape from where ever he might be imprisoned, but was able to sneak up on just about anybody and catch their conversation. Entertaining, if not realistic. There was also a common tendency that whenever the characters spoke to eachother, they to recap their past adventures together, tying the story neatly together for the reader. Very convenient, I must say.

Meeker, who wasn’t what he seemed (Thank God), apparently chose cohorts with the mentality of a 10 year old to do his bidding for him. It seems improbable, given the complexity of the scheme, but a brilliant mind giving cut and dry orders to a simple mind might be plausible. It didn’t seem so in this story, but I guess it could be.

If you haven’t guessed, this is a pirate story, and has its share of stupid, violent pirates. There was no “admiral” per se. I could tear apart the story mercilessly, but then this review would be full of spoilers, and in fact, there is a story here; it’s just full of holes. Then again, if you just use your imagination and buy a one time confluence of events and situations, you can enjoy the story despite its defects. I give it three stars for the story, and subtracted two for unlikely scenarios and behavior of the characters, unless you buy the 10 year old mentality theory of some of the pirates. Then it all makes sense-for them. For the supposedly educated Trenholm and a seasoned ships captain, not so much.

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