In Print : "Fish" by Greg Mone is a great catch
Photo courtesy of Gregory Mone
"Fish," by Gregory Mone, Scholastic Press, 2010. 242 pp., $16.99.
From the table of contents, which includes "How to Break Up a Sleep-Duel," and "Sneaking Up on Scalawags," to its last pages: "There was no panic in the boy's eyes, no fear. Instead, the boy looked happy — a rare emotion in the Reidy household given the long hard days, the coming winter, the terrible scarcity of food.…" author Greg Mone weaves a suspenseful, rollicking, fact-filled pirate tale that will keep children and young teens reading by their flashlights into the night.
Raised on a farm in Ireland, 11-year-old Maurice Reidy — better known to all as Fish because of his skill as a swimmer — is sent to the city to work as a courier for his uncle in order to send money back home to help his struggling family. But while delivering a purse filled with mysterious coins, he is waylaid, and the coins stolen. A chase ensues and Fish winds up held against his will on the pirate sloop Scurvy Mistress, with a crew of surprising and wonderful characters both rotten and redeeming.
It's one hard lesson after another: Endurance is tested, calamities avoided, alliances formed, and a mutiny secretly planned, while treasure waits to be found.
Carefully integrated into the suspense-chocked life aboard Scurvy Mistress, readers are provided a sense of time, place, and fascinating facts about ships (how longitude was determined), pirates (differentiating pirates from paperless privateers), and life at sea (gruel, seats of easement, and cabbages as pillows), among many other tidbits.
Scab shouted, "Oars."
A few seconds later, the boat began lurching forward. Fish ran to the starboard side. Below, eight oars were stroking in unison.
"That's the job you do not want," Daniel told him. "Trapped in the belly of the boat, your feet sitting in brackish water, pulling on those oars for hours at a time when the wind has gone to sleep."
Young readers will be able to see it all in their minds.
A history major at Harvard (class of 1998), Mr. Mone's authoritative, detailed descriptions of the sights, the stench, the sounds, routines, and the governance aboard the old pirate sloop are the results of almost three years of research.
A practiced researcher, Mr. Mone is a contributing editor for Popular Science, and author of the novel, "Wages of Genius," and the science and technology spoof, "The Truth About Santa: Wormholes, Robots, and What Really Happens on Christmas Eve." He says, "A lot of times, when doing research for a novel, it puts a damper on your enthusiasm, but in this case, the histories, the research about Ireland and pirates — there were pirates all over Ireland — it backed up all my wild ideas and enthusiasm."
The author, who has duel citizenship in the United States and Ireland, worked briefly as a banker after college, then moved to Ireland where he worked as a paralegal. Now at home in Canton with his wife, Nika, and three young children, he says, "I didn't think I'd wind up doing historical fiction, but doing this book brought me back to my training."
He has a confident, straightforward writing style, infused with humor that moves the story along quickly. The ship's crew includes the vicious and deceitful Scab; the mute, Oxford-educated, giant Moravius; and Fish's allies: Nora, the savvy young cook, and his shipmates Nate and Daniel. Captain Cobb and his wife Melinda, although both hardened and tough, bring a degree of integrity to their larceny.
Fish himself turns out to be rather surprising. Once among the taunting, hazing pirates, Fish takes a stand as a pacifist. He will swab the decks and do all manner of disgusting jobs aboard ship, but he will not fight, despite the goading and provocation. But with help from his friend Daniel, he manages to save both his face and his hide.
"Fish" reads too well to not have been enjoyable to write. Mr. Mone, a full-time writer for the past five years, admits to having a fine time doing it. He drew inspiration from the Vineyard, where he wrote the book while staying with his in-laws, Nick and Nina Thayer.
"The Vineyard Haven harbor inspired my book," he says, noting that his feelings as the ferry approached its slip, the smells and sounds in the harbor, informed his work.
He also personal experiences to draw on: Years of listening to the family stories about Ireland, the pirate games he invented for his nieces and nephews, and like Fish, his own prowess as a swimmer; once New York state champion, he competed in national events. (Mone is also an avid surfer, a regular presence at Long Point.)
"Fish" is the first in what Mr. Mone hopes will be a series of three books. We can only anticipate more gently doled out life lessons; great adventures, and an entertaining cast of fascinating characters.
Author's Talk with Gregory Mone, 5 pm, West Tisbury Library. Dramatic reading, pirate trivia, prizes, more. Ages 8+. 508-693-3366.