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Messenger Twelve
by James Lynn Bartz

Category: Fiction / Historical
249 pages; ISBN: 0967875609

Rating: 8/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Paul Lappen


In the mid-1800s, Reef Atherton grows up as a seaman on a slave ship called the Polar Star. He learns to put the suffering he witnesses out of his mind until he becomes rich enough to buy his own fleet of ships.

In the meantime, he meets, and marries Robin Larrimore, a "god-kneeler" from upper class Boston society. To enhance his wealth and position, she goads him into getting back into the slave trade. He refuses, and is forced into bankruptcy when his ships fail to return.

He travels to San Francisco in the midst of the Gold Rush days. He finds that the Polar Star has been drydocked and turned into a floating brothel owned by Lin Thai-Saing, a totally unscrupulous person. A native of Hong Kong, he moved to San Francisco when the local competition got too fierce. Thai-Saing has forced Caralina, a ten-year-old Italian girl with a beautiful singing voice to work for him as a sing-song girl.

Atherton gets on Thai-Saing's bad side, and is almost killed by a couple of his assassins when Atherton tries gold prospecting to buy another fleet of ships. When he recovers, Atherton becomes a Wells Fargo messenger, with the authority to carry a gun and use it.

Thai-Saing legally sells Caralina to a Mormon doctor for $2500 in gold. He then bribes a judge to issue a fugitive arrest warrant for her and sends a couple of his goons to get her back. Atherton's authority and willingness to use his gun ultimately foils the plan.

This is a very interesting and well-done story. It gives the feeling of being historically and socially accurate, and is a fine piece of writing.


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