Tidewater Review - January 2013

Return of the Amerind

reviewed by

Anne Stinson

Return of the Amerind, the sequel to Herons Poynte by G.M.O. Callaghan. Cashel & Kells Publishing Company - a subsidiary of Callaghan Films, Ltd. 458 pp. $16.95.
The book title Amerind is derived from the words American and Indian. The novel is about an avenging young Native American man whose mission is recovery of his ancestors’ homeland. Amerind was also the name of the slave ship that brought a load of African captives to be sold at the tip of Tilghman Island in the author’s previous book, Herons Poynte.
David Waterfield came from a sod hut on an Oklahoma reservation to the Naval Academy in Annapolis on a path to recovering the sacred ground that was stolen from his antecedents. His tribe, the Choptanks, had populated the banks of the great river with the same name, a place they called The Great Oak at the Center of the World. When white men arrived more than 300 years ago, they cheated and killed most of the Indians, tossing the bodies into a bog and driving the survivors into exile. Imported slaves built a mansion while the new “owners” built fortunes.
David, however, had the original parchment that confirmed the white men’s role in the theft of the lands of his ancestors. Caesarius Blackburn, the English signer, was drunk when the deed from his king was settled – his inked thumb slipped across the parchment and included the area on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay at the entrance to the Patapsco River.
Tobacco began to fill the family coffers at Blackburn’s Eastern Shore plantation until the soil was ruined. Later, through the late 19th and 20th centuries, the great belching Blackburn Steel Mill on the Patapsco site poured billions of dollars into the pockets of generations of the original Blackburns, whose chicanery gave them ownership.
Callaghan’s precis clarifies the situation as it exists now ~ five months after the end of Heron Poynte. David is missing, presumed dead. A severed head floats into Baltimore Harbor, even more gruesome after its immersion for months. Crabs have eaten its eyes, rockfish have feasted on its ears and only DNA will reveal its identity.
David was the predicted savior the ancient Choptanks foretold who would one day return the sacred spot to its rightful owners. In the previous novel, he accomplished the chore at the cost of his own life, a disappearance below the waves of the Bay.
David was unaware that his sweetheart, Liz, was pregnant with his child when he vanished. His son is born, clearly his father’s image – he sleeps with his eyes open as David did when he was alive.
With David’s successful court action that gives the Blackburn billions to its rightful heirs, the search begins for descendants of the Choptank warriors buried in the bog and recorded by their kinfolk before they were driven off their land. A separate slave graveyard held the bodies of servants who died in bondage at King’s Oak, as the Blackburns had renamed the place.
The huge job of finding and confirming the rightful heirs promised to be a lengthy challenge. It also provided a break for scoundrels associated with the Blackburn cabal, stalling as long as possible to keep their investments intact.
The senior Blackburn at the big house had perished in his wheelchair as a storm at the mouth of the Choptank River blew open a window and a kerosene lamp fell to the floor and ignited the rug. His only son, Tamian, was in his boat at top speed as he fled from David. In his flight, Tamian crossed the gap between a tug towing a barge connected by a taut wire. He was decapitated and suddenly there were no more Blackburns to inherit the charred mansion and plantation.
There was one more asset that made money as deftly as it made steel. The property at the mouth of the Patapsco River on the western shore, originally Herons Poynte, is silent and almost empty since a court order included it in the judgement against the Blackburns. The Steel Works that had been a 24-hour operation, coughing toxic smoke into the sky, draining putrid water into the river, raining soot and polluted air into its 10,000 workers’ lungs, was out of business.
The last Blackburn was dead, but his colleagues were still very much alive. One was the president of Temple Bank & Trust, the temporary stopping place for Steel Mill profits, which were then divided into less traceable
“shelters” in the Caymans, the invisible vaults of Switzerland, Singapore, and many more secure hideaways. One of the bank’s Board members was a judge with a hankering to be the next state governor. The clever pair were cohorts with Tamian since they had been students at Boy’s Latin, calling themselves the “Three Musketeers.”
The bank president was directed to be the trustee for the Blackburn wealth by that same judge. They were in a perfect position to stall for years while they used the money to make more money and ensure huge kickbacks for themselves. The court order charged the bank to certify the consanguinity of blacks and Indians to their early families and then split the riches of the estate to those whose DNA tests indicated matches. The job had no time restraint on meeting the goal. In view of the huge response from candidates for the spoils, it could take decades.
At the same time, bigwigs at the Pentagon are threatening a lawsuit against the shut-down Blackburn Steel Mill for selling inferior steel for a multi-million-dollar contract for new nuclear submarines. The first sub delivered had sunk, drowning more than 100 sailors. The bank has a very clever lawyer to squelch the threat.
Suddenly, David is back! He has a wild and wicked story to relate to his friends, both black and Indian. They need his leadership to recover the money they’ve been promised. He tells them the tale of his near-drowning, the result of the Coast Guard’s mistaken capture attempt, gunfire, cocaine sellers, and whoop-dee-do action on every page. And speaking of pages ~ the reader is only on page 200 ... that leaves just 258 to go!
This book has too much fun and tricky plotting to even consider putting it aside. The good folks are clean, brave and kind as Boy Scouts. The villains are wonderfully villainous, the steelworkers are rascally but have hearts of gold. This reader is no lawyer, but some of the strokes of luck in the transactions sound a bit dubious. No matter.
David, the heroic Indian, plays the role of the Prince in a fairy tale. Liz, his honey, is the Princess who must suffer before she lives happily ever after. David’s no-nonsense mother and two young sisters are stoic or silly as the plot meets bumps, hazards and problems for the hero.
One of the slave retainers is an albino, whose son is a result of Blackburn rape. Callaghan includes a catalog of Indian lore and rituals, whether fictional or factual, I know not.
Whatever the author’s intention, he clearly exhibits a reverent admiration for the underdog, and does it with passages of prose that are stunningly beautiful. His description of landscapes, his mastery of the effects of wind over water, even the mud after a rain, all unfold like poetry. For a wordsmith, it’s enchanting.
Amerind is a grand saga, an unlikely story, but who cares? I loved it!

Anne Stinson began her career in the 1950s as a free lance for the now defunct Baltimore News-American, then later for Chesapeake Publishing, the Baltimore Sun and Maryland Public Television’s panel show, Maryland Newsrap. Now in her ninth decade, she still writes a monthly book review for Tidewater Times.