James L. Haley
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Hardcover (also available in e-book and audiobook formats), 978-0-593-08511-0, 368 pgs., $28
March 2, 2021
James L. Haley’s popular naval adventure series is sailing once again into battle, this time in the Gulf of Mexico during the climactic days of the Texas Revolution in 1836.
Captain Putnam for the Republic of Texas is the fourth novel in the Bliven Putnam Series. Haley, a Texas native with more than twenty books to his credit, is a prize-winning author and historian noted for his historical-fiction writing as well as his history-centered nonfiction. Both talents get prominent display in this well-written, smoothly structured new work.
Haley’s central character in the series, Captain Bliven Putnam, is now forty-seven and hoping to retire soon from the US Navy. He has been in sea battles all over the world and wants to stay home on his Connecticut apple farm with his long-suffering wife, who is an author and advocate for women’s rights. But President Andrew Jackson approves a new, secret mission involving Texas and assigns it to Putnam, who is known in the Navy for “his experience with the games of pirates, privateers, and newly independent countries.”
Texas has been rebelling against Mexico for months, hoping to break free. Unfortunately, the Texians (Americans who were early settlers in Mexican Texas) have suffered serious losses in battle and have only a small, ragtag army and just one warship to stave off the flow of new Mexican troops and weapons that will be coming ashore soon on the Texas coast. Many Americans support the Texians’ desires for independence. Yet, to avoid war with Mexico, the United States must appear to remain neutral.
President Jackson orders Captain Putnam to take command again of his aging, thirty-gun sloop, the Rappahannock, which had been scheduled to be scrapped in New Orleans. The captain and his crew hoist an unfamiliar blue-and-gold flag over their warship, rechristened the Gonzalez, and sail the Texas Gulf Coast to fight as members of the Texas Navy.
To produce this entertaining and informative tale, the author has drawn from extensive US-history research and his knowledge of early nineteenth-century naval warfare. Haley has also written previously about several aspects of Texas history, including a 2004 biography, Sam Houston, focusing on the first president of the Republic of Texas. Not surprisingly, Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and others associated with the Texas Revolution emerge as characters within Haley’s new novel.
Despite the slow maneuvering capabilities of sailing ships, the naval battle action finally gets fast and furious in the gulf, particularly when the Gonzales must fight two Mexican warships at the same time in Texas coastal waters, and one of them ominously has no sails—it's a steamship. In light winds, Putnam realizes, it “could run circles around him and shoot where he could not shoot back . . ..”
Even though this is the newest book in the Bliven Putnam series, it can be a good starting point for readers who like naval-adventure fiction, as well as for those who are seeking fresh perspectives on the Texas Revolution.
James L. Haley is the award-winning author of the Bliven Putnam naval series, which includes The Shores of Tripoli, A Darker Sea, and The Devil in Paradise, as well as numerous books on history and historical and contemporary fiction. He is a two-time winner of the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and a recipient of the Fehrenbach Award of the Texas Historical Commission.