L.A. Meyer,
Mississippi Jack
(Harcourt, 2007)

Mary "Jacky" Faber -- from homeless waif to ship's boy in the British navy, pirate, serving girl, lady in training, actress, musician, privateer, slave -- and now, riverboat queen.

If you recall the end of In the Belly of the Bloodhound, the fourth book in Jacky's ongoing series of adventures set in the early 19th century, our heroine had escaped the clutches of vile slavers and sailed her captured ship back to Boston when, just as she disembarked with her schoolmates in triumph, she found herself arrested for crimes against the English crown.

But, while Jacky Faber has spent her fair share of time as a captive on both land and sea, it rarely proves easy to hold her -- and, soon enough, and in the wake of a massive riot in her name, Jacky is fleeing Boston for the relative safety of the inland United States. Joining her on this hasty expedition into the wilderness are her indispensable right hand, Higgins, plus fellow schoolgirl Katy Deere and Jim Tanner, sole employee of Faber Shipping, Worldwide (at present, a one-boat operation). Jacky's hastily formed plan involves a quick overland flight to Pittsburgh, from which she will catch the Allegheny south to the Mississippi River and down to New Orleans, where she intends to book passage to her beloved home in England, where she believes her fiance Jaimy Fletcher is waiting.

Little does she know that Jaimy has jumped ship himself and is following her down the mighty river -- in some unusual and possibly life-altering company.

I was a little worried at the onset of Mississippi Jack that a journey down a river wouldn't afford our plucky young heroine with enough opportunities for mischief and adventure. But not to worry, for author Louis A. Meyer has Jacky's fate well in hand. Jacky, for all the many years of experience under her petticoats -- when she wears them, the scamp -- has grown no wiser nor more sedate. She is an endless source of entertainment; she is brassy, clever, immodest, bold, flighty, romantic, impulsive, loyal, commanding and downright fun.

This chapter in her growing life's story draws on a wealth of riverboat lore, from tent revivals to floating casinos. There are noble savages and fierce Indian raiders, treacherous British agents, trappers and traders, slaves and slavers, whores, pirates, thieves and even Mike Fink, a bumptious icon of early American tall tales. Coincidences, unlikely encounters and perfect timings abound, and the threats of noose, whip and tar hang over Jacky with unnerving regularity.

Jacky Faber rises to the top of it all, like cream on milk, and this book, like its predecessors, leaves you wanting more. I'm happy to hear that Meyer is already hard at work on the next chapter in Faber's exciting saga.

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review by
Tom Knapp

25 August 2007

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