Book review: Hunt for White Gold by Mark Keating

In the early 18th century there was only one thing the rich and mighty valued more than the heady delights of drinking hot chocolate and tea.

Friday, 7th January 2011, 6:00 am

Sipping their fashionable beverages from the cool elegance of Chinese porcelain – ‘white gold’ to Europeans who longed to discover the secrets of its manufacture.

The man who could solve the mystery of something as seemingly mundane as fine China would make a fortune but where there’s money, there’s always skulduggery.

So who better to sail the high seas in search of a vital clue to untold wealth than the lovable and lawless pirate Patrick Devlin?

Readers of The Pirate Devlin, Keating’s first outing with his devil-may-care rogue, will be delighted to hear that the scourge of the Caribbean is back and fighting fit!

Devlin’s adventures are a captivating cross between the tongue-in-cheek romps of the Pirates of the Caribbean and the all-action dramas of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.

Keating certainly knows his stuff when it comes to the history of piracy and he imbues his characters with all the brutish and yet irresistible charm we have come to expect from the intrepid adventurers who helped themselves in a world where freedom was limited to those who could afford it.

Once a Royal Navy shoe cleaner and dogsbody, Devlin jumped ship and his allotted ‘peg-hole’, and now measures his class with steel and lead. In doing so, he has become the eternal enemy of his former master, Captain John Coxon.

In 1718, Devlin and his crew of motley mariners are holed up in Madagascar, more welcoming than the Caribbean island of New Providence which Governor Woodes Rogers is cleansing of pirates and lawlessness.

Little does the pirate chief know that in faraway Charles Town, South Carolina, plans are afoot to force Devlin into tracking down a letter smuggled out of China containing the centuries-old secret of ‘white gold’.

When Devlin’s loyal friend and quartermaster Peter Sam is kidnapped, the price for saving his life is to return to the dangerous waters of New Providence and seek out the secret formula for porcelain.

But if Devlin is to succeed, he must first outwit a vengeful Coxon and the fearsome Edward Teach, better known as ‘Blackbeard,’ who has an agenda of his own and a score to settle with the ‘upstart’ pirate.

Devlin is an anti-hero to savour...fearless and flawed, ruthless and roguish but with all the endearing honour that traditionally flourishes among fictional thieves.

Hunt for White Gold sees him on the crest of a wave - one that will surely sweep him on to his next thrilling adventure.

(Hodder & Stoughton, hardback, £14.99)