Excerpt from Marley by Jon Clinch, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Jon Clinch

Marley by Jon Clinch X
Marley by Jon Clinch
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2019, 304 pages
    Nov 2020, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Mark Anthony Ayling
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Print Excerpt

Chapter One

Sunrise, but no sun.

The merchant ship Marie tied up at the Liverpool docks hours ago, beneath an overcast sufficient to obliterate the moon and the stars—and now that dawn has arrived conditions have not improved. The fog over the Mersey is so thick that a careless man might step off the pier and vanish forever, straight down.

But Jacob Marley is not a careless man.

The Marie belongs to him, every plank of her hull and every cable of her rigging and every thread of her sails. Every other plank and every other cable and every other thread, to be precise. The rest are the property of his business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge could tell you exactly which plank and which cable and which thread, because that is how his peculiar and peculiarly focused mind works. Marley relies upon him for that. The two have been shackled together in business for exactly eight years now, although it seems like a thousand. They may as well have emerged together from the womb.

Scrooge lies abed at this cruel hour, rigid as a corpse behind his curtains, sorting his dreams into stately columns and rows. Marley is out here, dockside in the damp, to oversee the unloading of the Marie and the modifying of her identity to accommodate a modified world.

The ship's crew, weary from their journey but invigorated by landfall, have dispersed to tavern and knocking-shop, where their arrival has the routine and rhythmic quality of a changing of the watch. Whether standing at a brass rail or stretching out upon some ghastly damp cot, each man assumes a position only recently vacated by a recently satisfied customer. These previous are not merchant seamen like the men of the Marie but Royal Navy men instead, just now reporting back for duty upon a moored ship known to Marley by reputation. She is the HMS Derwent, recently in from Plymouth on her maiden voyage, although the newspapers have been full of her for months. A newly christened brig-sloop of nearly four hundred tons, she is slated to sail for the African coast at the turn of the year — and there to begin interdicting the heretofore perfectly legal slave trade. The Derwent is but the first of many ships set to engage in this devilish work, under the oversight of His Majesty's newly constituted West Africa Squadron. To Marley's way of thinking, it is all a great waste of iron and men and shipping capacity.

He watches the sailors as they strut and stagger past, youngsters sharp and gay and confident of their place in the world despite their recent immersions in grog shop and whorehouse. And once the Derwent has swallowed them whole he turns his attention to the unloading of the Marie. Armed with a fistful of negotiables, he enlists a rough band of longshoremen from alleyway and flophouse. Man after man they squint into the daylight with a cough or a groan or a regretful shake of an aching head, and then they fall to emptying her decks and purging her hold like an army of half-crippled insects, bearing away bales of fragrant tobacco and white cotton, barrels slowly aslosh with molasses, and hogshead after hogshead of refined sugar — a pharaoh's ransom heaved in teetering pyramids upon the quayside. Marley observes them closely, keeping watch upon the forward hatchway for the emergence of a set of heavy strongboxes. In all truth he cares little for the Marie's legally manifested cargo, as long as these particular boxes — chained each to each like prisoners, labeled Scrooge & Marley in a fierce and florid hand — remain secure. The ordinary goods are but passing through his clutches on the way to their true owners, while the strongboxes belong to him. And partly to Scrooge, of course. The instant he spots them he orders them borne straight to his carriage, their weight sufficient to set the weary springs groaning. The customs agent, in exchange for a secret handful of Spanish dollars, fails as usual to notice them.

Excerpted from Marley by Jon Clinch. Copyright © 2019 by Jon Clinch. Excerpted by permission of Atria Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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