Michael Kinnett’s new work “Apalachicola Pearl” is fine historical fiction with a local focus. History buffs and romantics alike will enjoy this page turner, set in Apalachicola during the Civil War.
Events leading up to the Civil War and the war itself unfold in this story of a young man’s emergence into full adulthood. Young Mike Kohler is left orphaned by a yellow fever outbreak in Port St. Joe. He lands on his feet with a solid foundation from his merchant father and moves the family home to Apalachicola where he works in the Custom’s House.
Mike strikes up an unusual friendship with a local street urchin, LaRaela Retsyo Agnusdei, who is better known as Pearl. The 7-year old is wise beyond her years and has a hidden a set of charms passed down from her deceased gypsy mother.
Pearl is cared for by Miss Charity, a slave belonging to Thomas Orman. Charity helps to keep her presentable; other local ladies provide her with hand-me down- clothing. She takes her meals where she can and is often fed by a green-eyed beauty Miss Caroline, proprietress of the Florida House restaurant.
As most of Apalachicola’s population flees during the Union blockade, Pearl arranges a meeting between Caroline and Mike that blossoms into something warmer than friendship. Mike and Caroline set up housekeeping.
Amid the turmoil following passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, Mike struggles to protect not only his own interests but the interests of friends Hatch Wefing and Jacob Foley, both away at war.
Pearl suddenly disappears and Mike and Caroline fear she has been kidnapped by her drunken father.
When ruffians threaten the few remaining citizens of the town, Mike and Stillman, a black man, join forces to protect the women folk and children.
Hatch, out of gratitude for Mike’s care of his aged mother, secretly arranges a wedding for Mike and Caroline. Mike is somewhat blindsided by the approaching nuptials. In addition, the hero of “Apalachicola Pearl” must cope with hostile marauders and rapidly evolving changes in his feelings about persons of color in the past and in his daily life as Stillman becomes his closest ally in the struggle to survive.
Kinnett, better known as Ranger Mike of the Orman House Historic State Park, has outdone himself combining a deep knowledge of local history with a vivid imagination and a gift for narrative. This is a must for every Franklin County library. – by LOIS SWOBODA