Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64)
The author provides a look back to a period of history involving famous good guys and the famous not so good guys. The Editors Note: Introductory is as interesting as the story itself leaving the reader eager to unearth more about Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson and the whole sugar-dominating force, the Speckles’ family. Their flamboyance is in stark contrast to the undercurrent of trafficking in human souls, opium and more.
The mystery unfolds and plays out in Hawaii in the late 1800s when Twain sails to Hawaii to give a lecture. While a pandemic supposedly prevented him from coming ashore to deliver the lecture, materials later discovered would say otherwise. Did he join Lloyd Osborne, did he witness the Georgia Magnet performance, and was he able to give his own lecture? Who was Mr Redvine? And how did he do such an accurate impersonation of Mark Twain?
From a doctor in the hospital . . . “This says the patient is William Redwine. It must be a mistake, or switched from another patient.” And . . . “It’s my new pen name. I got tired of Clemens and Twain,” said Mr Redwine . . ..” *
Here, in part, is how the author sets up the story:
Cholera has descended on the city.
Mark Twain is due to arrive to give a series of lectures, and history tells us the plague prevented him from landing. This [story] upends that myth . . ..”
And finally . . .
“It is a tale, . . . of a queen and princesses, as well as intrigue, blackmail and murder, . . . as well as Twain’s own efforts to unravel a mystery from his own past.”
This last statement is further expanded in the Editor’s Note: Introductory. Theroux reveals his persistent research into Mark Twain primarily in the archives located at his Hartford, Connecticut home at Nook Farm. The author’s findings led him to write Mark Twain, Detective. Furthermore, we learn more about Samuel Clemons’ daughter and granddaughter including they are both interred with him in Elmira, NY.
In summary, the story weaves back and forth from Hawaii to San Francisco involving very real members of both the Speckles and De Young families, as well as plenty of local Hawaiian fascinating characters, all built around a love of travel and the people Samuel Clemens met along the way.
Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, visited the foothills of California where many of Mark Twain’s novels were set. She now looks forward to visiting his farm and museum in Hartford, Connecticut.