My Book Review:
Sixty-four-year-old, tattooed, and ponytailed Jack Merkel is haunted by past tragedies, ten years gone. A retired career merchant seaman, he’s a seasoned mariner, with “a physical presence as sturdy as an oak” and “the hard-bitten look of an old salt.” Jack lives and works on Morgan’s Island in Ocean County Florida, with his Great Dane, Pogey. A third generation local, he owns a combined North Florida boatyard/marina, with a view of the Intracoastal Waterway. Used to salt air and capricious weather, his life is defined by the accoutrements that make up a mariner’s life. His is a simple life, and looking through his old, Jeep Wagoneer’s window, Jack is spellbound by “the spartina grass, the color of emeralds and worn like a monarch’s cloak in spring and summer, as well as the dull brown peasant’s rags that clad it in the winter.” Appreciative of, and in rhythm with his environment where the marsh’s fragrance is “a distillation that reminded him of the smell of fresh oysters,” and he hears “the maniacal laughter of marsh hens,” Jack can’t imagine living anywhere else.
When an indigent youth vandalizes the cherished sailboat Jack’s been building for the past ten years, Jack’s life takes a twist when he takes the high road. Rather than pressing charges, he reconsiders, when he “looked into the boy’s eyes and saw someone who’d never had a break.”
Local Circuit Court Judge, J. Harlan Kicklighter is Jack’s good friend, and when Jack makes a plea to personally rehabilitate eighteen-year-old Doug Eleazer, who is charged with resisting arrest, criminal mischief, and petty theft for what he’s done to Jack’s boat, the judge agrees to implement a part-time, work-release program. Bringing Doug out of his shell is a process, but Jack is determined to bring out the good in him, for reasons having everything to do with the tragedy of his family’s past.
Margie Waller is a forty-something, recent divorcee with an athletic figure and audacious laugh. The mother of the two teenage boys on board, she owns and captains her forty-foot, custom-made sailboat named Starshine, which she docks with its damaged rudder at Jack’s marina shortly before Hurricane Brenda is expected to wreak havoc on the area.
Unreconciled with and haunted by the ghosts of his past, Jack Merkel is hesitant to let down his guard with Margie, but when Hurricane Brenda lands, the two are thrown together and, in conjunction with Doug and Margie’s two sons, the framework is laid for the possibilities of a blended family.
Author Joe Palmer’s clear knowledge of all things pertaining to mariner life shines throughout this seafaring story, as does his great gift for character development and distinct world-building. Hope lures the reader through this well-paced, humanistic story of characters trying to connect, while seeking triumph over the unlucky parts of their personal narratives. In a wonderfully descriptive setting so finely part and parcel to the story as to exemplify the idea of character as place, Joe Palmer’s A Mariner’s Tale will appeal to readers of Nicholas Sparks and Robert James Waller, in that the beautiful water-front story touches the heart in a way that resonates.
Available where books are sold: Publisher : Koehler Books (October 25, 2020)
Praise for A Mariner’s Tale:
A Mariner’s Tale is a stunning debut: a seafaring novel rich with lush imagery and colorful characters from an exciting new voice in Southern fiction. With deft narrative skill, the author takes the protagonist, a cynical middle-aged mariner, and his protege, a troubled young man, on a voyage of self-discovery that begins on an island in Florida and ends in an Irish fishing village. You don’t want to miss this beautifully crafted page-turner!”– Cassandra King, bestselling author of Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy
“Hard-edged and gripping. An intriguing mix of hope and fear. Fans of Pat Conroy’s evocative novels are going to love this stirring debut.”– Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Warsaw Protocol
“A Mariner’s Tale is a richly rendered story scented with sea spray and filled with salty characters seeking grace, mercy and second chances. Palmer writes with heart and authenticity, bringing to life an unfortgettable crew worthy of the love and redemption we each hope to find in this life.” –Nicole Seitz, author of The Cage-Maker
Meet Joe Palmer
A native of Waycross, Georgia, Joe Palmer is an award winning former newspaper reporter and longtime columnist, whose folksy newspaper column, Cup of Joe, ran for ten years in the Fernandina Beach News-Leader with a large and enthusiastic following.
He’s written investigative reporting and feature stories for the Bradenton Herald, Macon Telegraph and News and the Florida Times-Union, where he wrote a long series of articles about a plague that was killing massive numbers of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins on the East coast in 1987.
A Navy veteran and medical corpsman, Joe went on to work as a surgeon’s assistant at a major medical center in Jacksonville, Florida, while attending college for his BA in English with an emphasis on literature. He parlayed his investigative reporting skills into a 20-year career as an investigator for the Federal Public Defender’s Office.
A sailor, he got the inspiration for his debut novel, A Mariner’s Tale, while doing sweat labor one scorching August afternoon on an antique sailboat he and his wife painstakingly restored.
Retired since 2012, he spends his days writing, sailing, beach bumming and traveling. He credits his love of writing to his high school English and Creative Writing teacher, Elaine Stephens nee Thomas, whom he says woke his muse. He lives in Fernandina Beach, Florida with his wife, Pam and a room-sized Great Dane named Harley.
Joe Palmer’s Website: Bookstores/Libraries – Joe Palmer (joepalmerauthor.com)