On patrol in the Caribbean, the USS Constellation surprises the Black Bloodhound and his crew in the midst of looting a merchantman. As the buccaneers flee in their schooner, the Constellation's captain pauses to drop a hastily-assembled prize crew to relieve the victim and and sets off in pursuit of the pirates. Lieutenant Daniel Upton and the prize crew arrive aboard the Brotherly Love, a Quaker ship, to find the deck awash in blood. Everyone aboard has been murdered except one poor soul whose mind is lost to torture. As the Constellation, already losing ground to the speedy pirates, slips over the horizon, Upton finds himself in command of an unarmed ship, damaged by battle and fire, stripped of provisions and navigational instruments but retaining most of her cargo. After acquitting himself well in a brush with pirates off the coast of Cuba, Upton realizes that he is unable to rendezvous with the Constellation in Jamaica and he limps into the nearest port -- Havana.
It is 1825 and times are turbulent in the Caribbean. The huge Spanish empire has broken up into a raft of new countries, but Cuba remains loyal. There are rumors of a rebellion in Cuba and of a Spanish reconquest of Mexico. As so often happens during "interesting" times, pirates are flourishing. Havana is a stew of internecine rivalries, fear of rebellion and slave uprisings, as well as speculation about the true identity of the Black Bloodhound. In desperate need of help, Upton cannot be sure who his real friends are. The suspense continues to build to a climactic showdown. Some interesting passages center around the HMS Flash, a frigate of the Royal Navy with a hard horse captain, but sympathetic officers.
Bishop's prose is spare and modern -- none of the excess verbiage that sometimes encumbers writers even as late as the 1920's. Indeed, the reader is pulled along pleasantly as new story elements succeed one another in good time. Bishop's descriptions of Cuba and the Caribbean are assured and authentic. His father was Joseph Bucklin Bishop, an intimate of Teddy Roosevelt and Secretary of the Isthmian Canal Commission, and Farnham grew up traveling back and forth to Panama. The reader is not belabored with exposition of historical context, but Bishop includes enough to make the story interesting and meaningful, even if some details (like the date of David Porter's resignation from the US Navy and appointment as commander of the Mexican Navy) have been changed.
The Black Bloodhound does not pretend to be more than a good adventure story, but it succeeds very well at this modest ambition. It is an enjoyable read and a window on an often-ignored period of naval history. Re-publishers of public domain material might profitably give this novel a look.
Description of: The Black Bloodhound
Author: Farnham Bishop