Hidden Cargo: A Novel
By: Robin Lloyd
Publisher: Lyons Press
Publication Date: May 1, 2023
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: April 3, 2023
Robin Lloyd’s latest novel, Hidden Cargo, is a page-turning ‘must-read’ that contains an adventurous blend of mystery, betrayal, and intrigue!
It’s October 22, 1865, and Navy Lieutenant Everett Townsend looks out across the horizon from his post. He thinks about his next run to Key West for supplies. He is the shipmaster of the USS Rebecca, a gun boat schooner. The war is over and Townsend reflects on his current assignment. His orders are to oversee prison activity at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. He can’t help but wonder how both Union and Confederate soldiers could serve their country with valor only to tarnish such honor by becoming a prisoner here after the war.
Fast forward and Townsend is now on that run to Key West. A formidable hurricane is bearing down on Captain Townsend and his crew and Bosun Metcalf approaches him with more than an edge in his voice concerning his fears of making it to Key West ahead of the storm. Townsend will hear nothing of it and his response to Metcalf is abundantly clear. Metcalf should stand down and push through. Townsend has a report to deliver to Naval headquarters and nothing, let alone a storm, is going to get in his way. Little did Townsend know his decision was just the beginning of a journey that would eventually lead him to Cuba and an illegal freedman slave trade.
Townsend and his crew push on with their battle against the tumultuous seas; all the while facing the risk of death. Fortunately, they manage a safe harbor of shelter among the mangroves off the northern edge of the Marquesas. As they are tossed along and forced into a shallow channel in an effort to secure the vessel, Townsend sees a shipwreck. As Townsend tries to point out his siting to Metcalf, a monumental wave blocks his view. Townsend knows what he saw yet cannot locate the image. He is forced to redirect his focus and guide the USS Rebecca to safe harbor. In the calm after the storm, Townsend organizes a recon mission of that shipwreck. What Townsend couldn’t possibly know from his initial siting was that it wasn’t a ‘phantom’ shipwreck. In actuality, it was just the beginning of where his Naval career would lead to next and when he uncovers multiple bodies in the hull of that ship, Cuba would be the next destination on his horizon.
I have not had the pleasure of reading any of Mr. Lloyd’s work, but I must say, wowee! Hidden Cargo is a sailor’s magnificent dream come true. The action is anchored well within the first few pages and continues to escalate throughout this read. Lloyd has done a superb job of setting the tone with an intentional balance between action, history, and adventure. His command of sailing jargon along with descriptive scenery takes the reader on an historical journey like never before. The era is set in one of the most historical times in our Nation (immediately post-Civil War, 1865). Yet, what is even more fascinating about this read is Lloyd’s overlay of an entire swath of history I had no idea existed. While there are undertones referenced throughout toward the emancipation of slaves in America, he enlightens the reader with a multitude of factoids toward the Spanish rein and their open slave trade in Cuba during this same period in history which was fascinating content to read. It is abundantly clear Lloyd was intentional with his storyline and even though his characters were fictitious, the historical accounts breathed life and credibility into their beings. The dialogue is rich. The cadence does not falter and simply put, this is a body of work that is a must-read! I look forward to Mr. Lloyd’s next book and can only hope it is sooner rather than later.
Quill says: Batten down the hatches and secure the sails because Hidden Cargo is a swashbuckling adventure not to be missed!
For more information on Hidden Cargo: A Novel, please visit the author's Instagram page at: https://www.instagram.com/authorrobinlloyd/