Broos Campbell,
Matty Graves #2: The War of Knives
(McBooks, 2007)

Since reading No Quarter, the first book in Broos Campbell's Matty Graves series, I have had the time to read several novels and nonfiction books of a nautical vein. Some were good, a few were very good, and one or two was a struggle to read to completion.

But after them all, I was very happy and relieved to pick up The War of the Knives, which not only met my expectations after reading No Quarter, it exceeded them by far.

That in itself is somewhat odd, for no other reason than The War of the Knives isn't really a nautical story at all. Sure, young Graves is the first lieutenant of the American war sloop Rattle-Snake during America's naval infancy, and certain portions of the story do take place at sea. But the majority of Knives occurs on San Domingo, a wealthy French colonial island (now Haiti) torn apart by a brutal civil war. Matty's mission is primarily one of intelligence-gathering, but he quickly finds himself involved in guerrilla skirmishes and large-scale assaults, sometimes riding a pugnacious horse, undergoing torture and languishing in a tumble-down prison. He spends far too much time in a truly vile sewer, witnesses a great deal of racial hatred and fights one great sea battle entirely without pants.

I loved it. Campbell's writing, which was strong in Quarter, hits new heights in Knives. I was there every step of the way on Matty's hapless adventures, even when he was elbow deep in a putrid corpse or unselfconsciously taking the hat of a comrade who no longer had a head to wear it on.

Campbell knows how to tell a rollicking tale, and I am ready to dive right into the third book in the series. I hope I find news of a fourth waiting at the end.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

2 January 2009

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