Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I, Walter, by Mike Hartner, read by Mike Hartner

Audible, June 2013

We meet Walter Crofter as an old man, 67, ill and possibly dying of malaria, determined to write down the story of his life, both what he did, and most importantly, why. He has secrets never shared, and wants his wife and children to understand.

Walter Crofter is the son of a cloth merchant in Elizabethan England, and his father's lack of business skill does not make life easy. His old patron, Sir Walter Scott is out of favor, his elder son Gerald has embarked on a life of crime, and the cloth merchant has little to offer his younger son but hard work with few prospects. Walter loves his parents, but he wants his work to count for something.

So he sets out, and, almost by chance, signs on to a royal merchant ship. The second in command, Bart, takes Walter under his wing and teaches him the skills of a sailor, and Walter over the next few years rises through the ranks.

He's also learning the skills of a merchant trader, and proves both lucky and smart. The luck is important, because life at sea in late Elizabethan and early Jacobean times is very, very dangerous. They fight the French and assorted pirates, and have many adventures, while Walter grows from boy to man.

I will say right now that, for an historical novel, the history of Spain in the late 16th and early 17th century, as related in this book, is absolute nonsense. I strongly recommend ignoring that, and just sit back and enjoy the story. Walter is an utterly engaging character, fallible, but loyal and decent, and it's his fundamental decency as much as his brains and his hard work that see him through the danger and challenges he faces. Because he is decent, loyal, and honorable, he attracts people like himself.

What is real in this picture of the times is the violence, the danger, the risk of disease at a time when medicine was at best primitive. This wasn't a time when the weak survived--and Walter Crofter is a very well-drawn example of moral decency as an essential part of strength, rather than a source of weakness.

Recommended.

I received a free copy of the audiobook from the author.