May 9th, 2008


Black Betty Review

Here is a review of 'Black Betty'

“Black Betty,” [Lone Star Stories; Issue 23, October 1, 2007] by Ben Peek is a compelling and macabre adventure story set against the Caribbean pirate era. Although no date is specified within the piece, somewhere around 1665 would be my educated guess. The story involves a British warship and its crew commissioned from St. Lucia, a Caribbean island that changed hands between the British and the French myriad times, with the former controlling the island from 1663 to 1667, a time frame coincident with the height of the Caribbean piracy era.

The story is largely framed in the form of testimonial evidence in regard to an investigation being conducted by Lord Richard Lewis who is apparently the governor of the colony or some other high official. His inquiry is in regard to an affair concerning the mighty warship Meredith which he had outfitted for the benefit of Captain Andrew Lewis, his now déclassé son. The son had been disgraced due to an affair he had had with a black woman who apparently had been a practitioner of herbal and folk medicine. Lord Lewis had been scandalized by his son’s association and had hung Zaierra, the object of Andrew’s affections.

Upon learning of a connection between Zaierra and a legendary, now virtually mythical, pirate queen referred to as “Black Betty,” Lord Lewis ordered his son, by way of redemption, to hunt down both the pirate and her swift raiding ship—boasting distinctive black sails—of the same name. Black Betty is believed to have been a onetime runaway slave who had turned pirate as revenge; a revenge which has wreaked havoc upon the Caribbean for years. Myths abound about her including that she had made deals with the sea to gain immortality.


Throughout the story—thus far related as an inquiry before the ill-fated captain’s father—the reader is puzzled at certain inconsistencies within the testimonies given by the three witnesses and even more so by unanswered questions. How long had Lewis and his party remained on the island? Was it really the three days that Avery had maintained it had been?

If so, why hadn’t Blue and Belzar stated or implied such, nor Lewis within his letter? What would have been the purpose for such an extended visit when they had discovered Black Betty, the stated reason for their having been there, the first day? Had Captain Lewis actually so easily relinquished his father’s prize captive or her life as the pirate Belzar related?

Likewise, to this point the reader is uncertain if he or she is reading a straightforward and dark adventure story, or one of the supernatural. Nowhere is the word “voodoo,” for example, mentioned; yet the author skillfully weaves that thought within the reader’s perception with subtle allusions that are by no means conclusive. Mr. Peek paints a tense, ominous portrait on the steamy tropical canvas of his vivid imagination. The trepidation the author engenders within the reader’s psyche is palpable; the sheer ruthlessness of his drawn subjects, breathtaking.

Mr. Peek’s resolution of the story is one that is as masterful as it is startling and unforgettable. It is delivered by way of a testimony beyond the scope and authority of Lord Lewis’s investigation. It is an ending just vaguely reminiscent of that of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, though totally original and just as compelling. Mr. Peek adroitly leaves just enough to the reader’s imagination to render the piece thought-provoking, while sufficiently resolving riddles to avoid his story becoming a cipher in the reader’s mind.

If “Black Betty” is indicative of Mr. Peek’s work as a whole, then it is a point of wonder that his is not already a household name; or at least such within houses where residents actually read. Five stars out of five. Bravo!


This review has, I think, the weird honour of being--to the best of my knowledge--the most words dedicated to anything I have ever written. Usually, I'm not so up on pieces that tell me what was in the story, but I was strangely captivated by this one. For some reason, I kept wondering if I'd really written that, and why someone in Hollywood wasn't rushing to take an option on the piece, and give me millions of dollars. Not the usual experience I get while reading reviews, got to say.

Black Sheep

From Timothy S. Miller (timothymiller):

"I was convicted of being Japanese. It was my only crime, and when found guilty, I was sentenced to Assimilation."

So begins Black Sheep, by Ben Peek, a dark dystopian journey into a world where segregation is perfected, and opposition--even in thought--results in the mind numbing horrific act of Assimiliation.

Isao Dazai, having recently immigrated to Asian-Sydney from Asian-Tokyo, finds himself in a world--once again--divided by race. Sydney is no different than Tokyo. Segregating Asians, Africans, and Caucasians into walled cities guarded by featureless Segregators, grave consequences result at even the thought of crossing cultural boundaries.

From the beginning, (not counting the fact that the first few lines of the book offer up his fate) we know that Isao is destined to buck the system.

While he is continually curious about the happenings in African or Caucasian-Sydney, his apathy and restlessness, even in his own Country (before immigrating to Asian-Sydney) speaks more of an existential angst, a discomfort in his own skin, than a true desire to search out alien culture. " was a well kept secret that I believed that I could live in any city, in any country, and feel the same ambivalence."

But we're not just talking about angst rising out of the uncertainty and discomfort of your own existence, we're talking angst that blooms and thrives in an environment where all of your actions are caught on surveillance cameras, your voice recorded, and dissidence rewarded with the stripping of your pigmentation--an erasure of sorts--placing you in environs eerily reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps.

While I was hoping for the dark brooding humor that plagues (in a good way) his blog, Peek's Black Sheep--while void of lightheartedness, (this is dystopian after all)--was impossible to put down.

Peek creates a sterile world where your name is your sickness, your Family is your enemy, individuality is prohibited, and nothing is ever what it seems.

It must be review week for me. I've noticed that these things tend to come in groups.

Anyhow, a while back, Miller told me that Black Sheep had ended up as the extra curricular reading in a course out in Texas, if I remember right. For a moment, I thought I should apologise to people, but then I realised that this meant people had to buy my book, and course marks were a suitable bribe. Since the book is pretty much dead, the idea of anyone buying it seems alien and obscure, I decided this was quite a good thing.

Link to Amazon, where you can buy it, review it, recommend it, do whatever with it.