Monday, February 19, 2018

Fire Island by John J. Stevens

April 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

To have it all, to lose it, and then find a way to get it all back again is tough.  In Fire Island, a novel by John J. Stevens, a ship captain loses a leg, his son, and his ship in a matter of minutes. As compelling a story as that sounds, this novel set in 1857 New York is so much more than one captain’s saga.

Stevens tells the story of different people woven around a central theme of ships and the United States Lifesaving Service. Using historical facts, real people, and artistic license, the author draws you into a world where ships and the industry surrounding them mean different things to the men and women whose stories become meshed together, heading for a fight to the finish on Fire Island.

Moses Howland Grinnel was the owner of a trading company. From his perspective, the ships represented revenue and the growth of his company. His best captain was William Trask, who lived life as a sailor, savoring the open sea and navigating around the world before he suffered the tragedy that changed his life. To the “wreck masters” (I think of them as crooks) Frank Eck, Joe the Indian, and Supercargo Butler, ships were what they lured to their doom in order to steal their goods.

On Fire Island, Cassandra Wolf and her assistant Dahlia make it their mission to aid wounded sailors.  Stationed on the island, at the Lone Hill Station of the Lifesaving Service, Joshua James, Elijah Slocum, Jeremiah Slocum, Jimmy Gilbert, Joseph Barker, Abraham Century, Thomas Mannering, and eventually Captain William Trask, stand ready to help ships in peril.

Stevens’ writing is clear and fun to read. The book is broken up into 51 separate, but eventually connected chapters, designed to bring life to this story and hold your interest as the plot develops. Not every writer can skillfully weave together shipwrecks, camaraderie, love, tragedy, loss, and promise, especially in a historical drama centered on ship captains and surf men, but Fire Island is an enjoyable success.  I really enjoyed how the novel paints the picture of what lives were like in 1857, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who loves boats, Long Island, or just a good book.

Excerpt from the novel:

“Trask lashed a coil of rope to his waist, and, without a word of farewell, clasped the hanging line, and jumped off and away from Audacious.

He immediately began swaying and twisting in the wind. But soon, he got his bearings, and, hand over hand, raised himself up into the mast. As he did, he reminded himself sternly not to look down. The churning morass waiting to engulf all falling objects would have chilled the courage of any man.”

Book Review by Sam Mines

is a graduate of Buffalo State College and a sports blogger for and He’s actively seeking a career in sports media and welcomes any opportunity. He also aspires to acquire a huge boat.

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