Dr. William Merrell, an internationally respected scientist who is currently recognized for his Ike Dike proposal for a coastal spine system of storm surge protection, has recently published a very entertaining historical novel set in Galveston before and during the Great Storm of 1900.
The action in the novel is centered in the Strand district, including property that Merrell now owns and occupied during Hurricane Ike; as well as at other Galveston landmarks, such as the carriage house at the Gresham mansion on Broadway, now known as Bishop’s Palace, where the characters in the novel weathered the 1900 Storm. The story revolves around the fictional romantic adventures of Henry Sampson, the actual name of a person who lived during the time and was photographed in Merrell's building.
Historic figures who were depicted in the fictional account include Jack Johnson, who would eventually become the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world; George Sealy, who was head of the Galveston Wharf Company; Norris Wright Cuney, a union leader on the waterfront; Lilly Langtry, who was in town for a performance at The Grand Opera House; Isaac Cline, famed meteorologist; and others, including three men who helped privateer Jean Lafitte bury the treasure that is central to the story.
The narrative of the novel began on August 27, 1900 as the hurricane was building in the Atlantic, moving toward the Gulf of Mexico. Weather was not a concern of young Sampson, who was intent on becoming a successful businessman in the prosperous seaport city. His bid for membership in the prestigious Artillery Club was complicated by his romance with a woman of mixed race. Another woman, who would be a more acceptable partner in his quest for success, entered the picture; and her involvement drew him into a search for Lafitte’s treasure.
As the complexity of the story developed, the storm’s approach added an ominous overlay. Steamy sex, violence, a supernatural curse, and the storm's wind and surge all combined to make a very exciting read.
I have known Bill Merrell since the mid 1980s when he was president of Texas A&M University at Galveston; and have been aware of his standing as a respected scientist, nationally and internationally. He has demonstrated his skills as a writer throughout the years, mostly of scholarly non-fiction, but he did win positive reviews for a play, The Boating Party.
I hope that Henry Sampson and the Great Galveston Storm is not his final novel. I really enjoyed it.