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Review: The secret life of James Cook / Graeme Lay

June 2, 2013

Captain James CookAnytime anyone mentions the word ‘secret’, it makes me want to find out what the secret is, and it was in this spirit I picked up this new book.

I would say most kiwis know, vaguely or otherwise, who Captain James Cook is. He was not the first European to discover New Zealand, but did extensive work charting the coastline for posterity. Many capes, promontories, and bays still bear the names he bestowed upon them; and it is in this book we are told how the names originated – mostly from crew members, or members of the British admiralty whom he wished to honour or perhaps curry favour with.

As I read, I found the maps of the world and New Zealand very helpful to refer to as the novel charted Captain Cook’s journey from Plymouth to what was mostly uncharted territory in what the Brits referred to as ‘The Southern Seas’.

Graeme Lay writes well and engagingly, weaving his suppositions about  Captain Cook’s frames of mind with the background of abundant and readily available historical facts. Lay’s concoction is quite riveting, and really took me back to what it would have been like in the 1760s and 70s. I also made notes to myself to check the factuality of the author’s account of Cook’s life, but this all ended when I read his acknowledgements at the end. Graeme Lay never intended this novel to be a non-fiction work, but rather to personalise the man behind the myth.

A highly engaging and educating read,  I would recommend this to anyone who likes swash-buckling tales as well as proper history buffs. 4/5 stars.

by Tamara Jones

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