“The Reckoning,” by Bob Larranaga. CreateSpace. 290 pages. $14.99. Kindle e-book $3.99.
Though former custom publisher Bob Larranaga has published several nonfiction titles, this is his first novel. It’s a grand debut, filled with carefully researched history, strong characters, stunningly textured settings, and dazzling action. Set near the beginning of the Civil War in coastal Southwest Florida, “The Reckoning” is a grand adventure that explores a damaged father and son relationship, the nightmare of warfare, the nightmares that continue long after combat, and the exploitation of the war situation for personal gain. Did the author miss a note? No, there is also romance.
The flawed hero is Ed Canfield, a veteran of the Mexican-American War who has settled in the Cedar Keys area of Florida’s west coast. It’s a bustling community – at once port and railway terminus. Most of the book’s action takes place between there and Key West, as Canfield attempts to avoid the central issue of the day during the Civil War: “whose side are you on?” Though Florida is a secessionist state, Canfield is no friend of slavery. He strives to be independent, but that’s not easy to do. Hot-tempered by nature, he has disciplined himself to a cooler emotional temperature. That, too, is threatened by what he needs to confront.
Seeing injustice and cruelty on both sides, Canfield’s outrage builds. His passion grows for beautiful young Maureen, a neighbor’s daughter who has returned to Cedar Keys to teach school. Most importantly, his ex-wife has sent their teenage son, Jesse, to live with him. Jesse has harbored tremendous resentment toward Ed, whom he thinks abandoned them. Ed needs to navigate through this emotional hostility. Like author Larranaga’s adventure plot, his careful development of the father and son story is gripping and suspenseful.
An attack by a Yankee gunboat ignites the action. Ed Canfield can no longer play the uncommitted outsider. With his son and a few others, Canfield runs the Yankee blockade, searching for Maureen. He encounters her and others at an encampment where yellow fever is raging. Now he must somehow make it to Key West and back to bring the necessary medicine and other supplies.
Ed Canfield’s adventures travels in both directions via various waterways and across the Florida Straights are the heart of the novel. It’s not an uncontested journey. Conditions and treacherous outlaws provide the main hazards. Bob Larranaga’s descriptions of fight scenes, seamanship, the characteristics of boats is superb. So is his portrayal of the dangerous environment. In many scenes, he rivals Robert Macomber, the master of maritime historical fiction set in this era and region. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 28, 2013 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly and the March 7 Bonita Springs edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Larranaga