The Bloody Black Flag

A Spider John Mystery

By Steve Goble


Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele


1722–aboard a pirate ship off the American Colonial Coast.

Spider John Rush never wanted to be a pirate, but it had happened and he’d learned to survive in the world of cut and thrust, fight or die. He and his friend Ezra knew that death could come at any moment, from grapeshot or storm winds or the end of a noose. But when Ezra is murdered in cold blood by a shipmate, Spider vows revenge.

On a ship where every man is a killer many times over, how can Spider find the man who killed his friend? There is no law here, so if justice is to be done, he must do it. He will have to solve the crime and exact revenge himself.

One wrong step will lead to certain death, but Spider is determined to look into the dying eyes of the man who killed his friend, even if it means his own death. (Goodreads)


The Bloody Black Flag, the first novel featuring Spider John Rush, is full of plundering, mutiny, theft, and murder.  With heavy handed swashbuckling, and a little mystery thrown in, it is an action packed pirate ride.  

Spider John and his friend Ezra find themselves running from trouble to the open arms of the pirate ship Plymouth Dream.  Neither man wants anything to do with pirate life and just desire to make it back home to their families, but one must do what one must to survive.  Ezra quickly becomes suspected of being bad luck for the crew, so when he is found dead on deck everyone assumes he had too much to drink and fatally hit his head.  Everyone, that is, except Spider John.  He is convinced that Ezra met with foul play and makes it his mission to pinpoint the killer and avenge his friend.  As the carpenter for the ship, he has the unique opportunity to move about the ship at will and investigate.

These are not the pirates of Disney movies and romance novels.  Goble gives readers a gritty picture of the brutality of life on a pirate ship.  Spider John is exceedingly likable and shows great intelligence in his investigating.  However, there is not a lot of investigating going on.  Spider John spends much of his time ruminating over his friend’s fate and hoping that the killer does not die in battle before he has a chance to kill him.  In fact, it is easy to forget that The Bloody Black Flag is a murder mystery since there is much more emphasis placed on life on the ship.  I guessed whodunit rather early in the story, and the secondary plot concerning Captain Barlow’s treasure takes over the second half of the book.  Everything does tie together nicely at the end, but the climactic revelation of the murderer is anything but.

Spider John is an interesting character, and I would like to know more of his back story.  I do think the premise of a Pirate Detective is a good one.  I just hope that it is a sustainable, perhaps if Goble moves the action off of the ship for the next book.  Some of the other characters are also intriguing, specifically fourteen year old Hob.  Other characters, including Dr. Boddings, are much harder to determine their trustworthiness.  Captain Barlow and fellow pirate Peter Tellam are truly nasty and easy to dislike.

I enjoyed The Bloody Black Flag as long as I treated it like a bigger-than-life historical escapade and not a straight up murder mystery.  I will definitely give the next book in the series a try when it publishes.