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“Seized” Book review

1 July 2015

Seized” is the real-life memoirs of Captain Max Hardberger’s fascinating career as a shipping captain turned recovery specialist, turned shipping lawyer.  I don’t normally read non-fiction, although I like to read well written historical fiction that reads (to the uninitiated) as though it is based on research and a sound understanding of the subject matter.  I picked this up (or rather, downloaded it on the kindle) after a chat with a divemaster made it sound like an exciting read. 

The book reveals the perils of international shipping and underhand tactics that were seemingly prevalent in remote ports of the Caribbean, Mediterranean and further ashore, impounding ships on specious charges to sell them, or their cargo, on at a profit.  Max started as a ship captain, rescuing his vessels from awkward situations (impounding by corrupt authorities, extortionate repair charges etc) who developed a name for “stealing ships out of port” and then worked hard to become a shipping lawyer.

In the book Max reports how he had to resort to subterfuge, stealth, bribery, his wits and (on the rare occasion) the law, to release ships and other portable assets (including fighter planes from Eastern Germany during the reunification of Germany).  You have to wonder if Max’s role would still be possible in the current environment of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other global bribery legislation, that would have international ship owners struggling to facilitate and condone the methods he uses to release the assets, and other tactics make you wonder whether Max lives with a permanent twitch.

The book is essentially a series of short recollections of Max’s recoveries.  As such, it is a good book to dip into, but becomes a little formulaic towards the end.

The situations always seem a little too black and white, always a nefarious and greedy shipyard owner imposes outrageous charges whereas Max’s client is always ready and willing to pay the fair and agreed price.  It may well be that Max did always act for the good guy but I find it hard to believe that things were so clear cut and Max occasionally tries too hard to justify skipping out of a port without paying the amounts demanded.  Still it is an exciting modern version drawing parallels of Hornblower and Aubrey cutting French prizes out of port during the Napoleonic era.

Character  5/10  – Obviously limited by real life reflection, but the “villains” are generally a bit flat.

Narrative  7/10 – Each story is gripping and told with good colour and sufficient detail/recollection to keep you gripped.

Accuracy 9/10 – Given that Max lived the adventures and had a long history of this, you can’t really fault his knowledge, although sometimes he may take certain liberties with the truth.

Gripping 6/10 – individually, each story is fun and keeps you involved, but overall tends to pale as a result of being a series of recollections.

Would I recommend? 7/10 – Very enjoyable, although probably not the whole book in one sitting.

Overall: 68%

From → Books, Sailing

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