Jack Waters by Scott Adlerberg is a historical thriller set in 1904 about an American guy from New Orleans—a poker player and fugitive murderer—who joins a Caribbean island revolution for utterly non-political reasons. He has his own reasons for joining the rebellion, based on revenge against someone high up in the country (available January 17, 2018).
In the years after the American Civil War, Jack Waters, a successful Louisianan gambler, lives the high life on a big plantation that he cherishes. Fancying himself a gentleman, he is well-respected within his circles. His trajectory for a life of ease is forever altered, however, when he finds himself running from the law after he kills a 22-year-old poker player.
The boy had the gall to cheat in his house, and then to think he could depart unscathed. In a flash, like a panther, Waters leapt over the round oak table, scattering cards and chips. He jumped onto the boy and they fell to the floor. The others yanked at his arms and shoulders, but they couldn’t get a grip on him. Waters pushed them away. He drew from under his shirt the long retractable knife he always carried for protection, and ignoring the boy’s cries for mercy, stabbed him in the heart.
He flees to a Caribbean island run by General Hernandez Garcia Napoles, the country’s notorious president. At first, Jack fits in with the upper crust, but the erudite become suspicious of the reason he’s there, suspecting he may be a spy. The country is in a continuous state of revolutionary eruptions thanks to Raoul Cardenes Amoros, “leader of the incendiary movement,” who lives in the highlands. Seventeen years of rebelling means he knows a natural fighter when he sees one, so he invites Waters to join his merry band, The Fifty, as they are called. Waters refuses—until a run-in with Garcia changes his tune.
Waters had been warned by an acquaintance not to play cards with Garcia, that the dictator was a sore loser and would enact revenge. Problem is that Waters has too much hubris in his skills with the cards that when invited to a game by Garcia, he wins 34,600 pesos (roughly $29,800 US dollars). Garcia gives Waters one week to leave the capital. Instead of obeying, he opts to join Raoul’s fighters and quickly ascends.
He shook his head in disbelief. He was now the main advisor to the leader of the resistance? What of the 34,600 pesos? He couldn’t forget that. The General owed him that money. If he never got it from the General but the rebels did take power, he would ask Amoros to give it to him from the island’s treasury. This would not be as satisfying as getting the money from Garcia himself, but the payment would be a fair reimbursement in light of the fighting he’d done for the rebels.
Jack Waters is a hard character to admire because his motives—though couched in a code of ethics—are always self-serving, even when he becomes a guiding force within The Fifty. This character is less idealistic Che Guevara and more Han Solo opportunist.
When he makes his first successful raid, on a rum plantation, he sends his four accomplices outside so they can’t hear the warning he leaves for Garcia: “I have a message for the President … He still owes me $34,600 pesos.” Other raids ensue with other messages left behind, saying that “… he would leave the rebels when the General settled his debt.” Some of his brothers in arms begin to suspect he is secretly working for Garcia, noting his tendency to have a private word with whomever he’s pilfering.
I said hard to admire, but Jack Waters is definitely entertaining to follow as a man of action. And Mr. Adlerberg more than balances it out with the villainy of Garcia, whose sick fetish of licking the blood from the soiled sheets after deflowering teenage girls is one for the evil antagonist books. I appreciate the author’s storytelling skills. He’s not a verbose writer trying to impress with a clever turn of phrase but rather a “pull up a chair and let me tell you a story” approach—it’s an easy going manner that sucks you in completely.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.