often root for old books. I want them to be good, even better than novels of the current day, just to throw something in the face of people who assume that people of the past were simplistic clods who suffered because they didn’t have access to the likes of Clive Cussler. And now I’m delighted that I found an old book of 1898 vintage, Moonfleet, that tops everything.
No, it’s not a book about spaceships. Moonfleet is a story of youth along the southern coast of England, of 1757, of smugglers slipping in past the watch, of barrels unloaded on dark beaches and men watchful for the posse patrolling the white cliffs. And this novel blew me away, for the excitement, the adventures, and the grim events that occur.
As in most works of the time, young John Trenchard is an orphan who lives with his aunt in the rundown village of Moonfleet. It used to be under the sway of the family Mohune, among whose line existed Colonel John “Blackbeard” Mohune, a villain who turned on his King, turned on his assistants, turned on damn near everyone and died in wretched isolation in Moonfleet. Part of his legend involves a diamond now cursed for his actions and long lost. There is even the legend of his churchyard ghost which frightens travelers and apparently strangles the unwary.
And so young John goes about his business, looking towards his eventual life of possibly fishing and maybe smuggling (which takes place around him – after all, the local magistrate Maskew just shot down (like a dog, damn him) the son of the local pubkeeper, who now grieves his loss).
But then John makes an amazing discovery, finding the cave (in a very cool place) used by the smugglers. And true to such tales, in the smugglers come, forcing him to hide (just like Jim in the apple barrel). I read this thinking, okay, either he is discovered and brought aboard the smuggling vessel or he’s going to carry the secret of the smugglers and use it for his own purposes (he’s in love with Grace, daughter of the evil Maskew, don’t you know). But then the story turned on its ear and took me to places I couldn’t imagine.
After this, it’s lonely moors, lines of redcoats firing, bullets humming past, hidden caves, bodies down wells, a smuggler or two (so eventually they did show up), of terrible fates, shipwrecks, deaths and murder.
All I can say is that, outside of War of the Worlds, this was one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve gone through from the end of that century. And, damme lad, I’m putting it into your own grasping hands, HERE ye go. Yes, this one is available for free – you can read it any old way you like, but read it you must, it’s that good.
Or you can go back to your Clive Cussler, if you must.