A Hanging Offense is a fascinating tale of the small brig-of-war Somers and her fateful training cruise that ended in three hangings and a court martial. Such a subject could easily be dry to the point of dustiness, but Melton does an excellent job of keeping the pace of the story moving, using colorful descriptions and even waxing poetic on more than one occasion. Anyone who has never been to sea will get an inkling of the “call of the sea” and anyone who has been to sea will recognize in Melton a kindred spirit.
As for the story of the three supposed mutineers Spencer, Cromwell and Small, their story as told by Melton does a great job of imparting just how desperate Mackenzie and the officers would have felt on the tiny brig with the crew becoming more and more disruptive. A Hanging Offense does an admirable job of presenting both sides - was Mackenzie culpable for justice or murder for the hangings, with the equanimity of a trial lawyer himself? He does not judge the actions he reports; he merely imparts all the information he has available.
From Mackenzie’s records (official and otherwise) to the evidence given by the officers and crew, the reader is presented with the bare bones from which to drape a verdict if only in their own minds. A Hanging Offense provides an unpalatable portrait of life at sea during the 1800’s. However, as with many things, once you pick up the tale you cannot turn away. Highly recommended for any history lover, particularly those with a penchant for the sea.