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Certainty by Victor Bevine


by Victor Bevine

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Newport, R.I is known for its grand historical oceanside mansions...certainly not this one piece of history that's been swept under the carpet. This book is about a hushed-up naval trial that took place in Newport. A bizarre piece of WW1 history ....
This story is about entrapment, so-called christian values and politics. A witch hunt for homosexuals involving a much-admired clergyman and the Newport native lawyer who defends him.
If it hadn't been non-fiction i wouldn't have finished it....not because of the writing but because of the absurd storyline ( )
  linda.marsheells | Jan 15, 2015 |
This is a book that doesn't seem to be garnering much buzz, which is a shame because not only is it exceptionally well written but it is based on fact. A sex scandal involving the Navy, a well loved clergyman and eventually even Roosevelt himself.

There are a few graphic sex acts and more described but that is what the basis of the novel covers. The character development was phenomenal and that is what I loved about this book. William, the lawyer who defends the clergyman, sees things in black and white, something is either true or not. During the time period covering the accusations and the trial, these staunch beliefs will be tested to the utmost. Will he be able to change, enough to defend this man he considered innocent and a friend?

Charlie, one of the sailors involved in the accusations, also changes profoundly by the end of the book. Right and wrong becomes a matter of opinion, a different way of seeing things. How will Charlie react, when the cost is so high?

The clergyman, a man who during the Spanish flu sat with dying soldiers, a man who is held in esteem by many. How much will his life change and how will be able to confront the good and the evil that are present in many, including maybe himself?

The end of the book tries to follow these men after the trial and there is an author's note to help the reader find further resolution.
A brilliant book that covers a case that had wide spreading implications during the early 1900's.

ARC from NetGalley. ( )
  Beamis12 | Dec 17, 2014 |
Certainty is a fictional account of the true “Newport Navy Vice Scandal of 1919.” As WWI drew to a close, there were twenty-five thousand Navy recruits in Newport, RI (Naval Training Center). The former upscale town was being overrun with drinking, prostitution, and moral depravity. It turned out to be a legal nightmare for junior attorney William Bartlett as he prepared to defend Reverend Samuel Neal Kent, an Episcopal military chaplain who was charged with ‘lewd and scandalous’ behavior. On a state level, the case was dismissed due to ‘entrapment.’ The Navy allowed the recruitment and training of ‘undercover operators’ with the task of allowing sexual deviancy upon themselves in order to locate and charge the ‘fairies’, a common name for homosexuals at that time.

However, the case at the state level had not been won; it was acquitted. A war statute was in place prohibiting conduct leading to ‘moral contamination’ within a five-mile radius of any military base. So, Kent’s case was moved up to the Federal court system over the same issue. Once again, William Bartlett represented him. Within the opening pages, Reverend Kent was seen as a compassionate and caring man who ministered to men in the infirmary suffering from the Spanish Flu, a pandemic of 1918 that killed many. As the news released information pertinent to the case, many of the public was appalled by the behavior which they considered ‘unspeakable’ and further appalled to think that a minister may be a part of it.

Whenever I read a historical fiction, I like to find what is true from what has been fictionalized. The author’s note explained that while some of the surnames were changed, most are as they appear in the historical records. In the novel, William Bartlett is the defense attorney; I was unable to determine who the actual attorney was for Reverend Kent. The author did well to establish the character’s back stories as it helped the reader understand their outlook into the matter. Charlie McKinney was one of the operators and the reader sees most of the thinking of the day through the expressed words and thoughts of this character. The fictional account does not line up in all ways to the true story, but from what I could tell, it is close. The novel is a historical, legal, courtroom drama focusing on how morality was seen in America’s past. I rated Certainty at 3.5 out of 5. ( )
  FictionZeal | Nov 21, 2014 |
Society gives us a shared moral code to live by. It legislates what is right and what is wrong. But what is legislated and considered moral has undoubtedly changed and morphed over time. Some of the things that were once illegal are now legal and those that were legal are now illegal. So morality and justice are not always just about what society deems to be acceptable and what is reprehensible. We have to find good and right and moral deep down in our bones and our souls. We can use society's guidelines, and frequently do, but we also must be certain in our hearts and our minds of just what justice and morality looks like. And sometimes that certainty is neither black or white but somewhere in between. Victor Bevine's historical novel, Certainty, poses the challenge of what is right when society and deep cherished beliefs come into conflict, putting a character into a situation where his own faith and understanding of morality is in question.

In 1919, just as WWI is ending, there are 25,000 Navy men in Newport, Rhode Island. For a town that normally has only 5,000 service men, this is a huge and troublesome number. The men drink, gamble, and carouse. There are prostitutes to cater to all these young men. The Navy is focused on rooting out all this vice, especially those men who are interested in the almost literally unspeakable act of sodomy. They are determined to crack down on "fairies" and eject from their ranks any homosexual they can find. In order to do that, they enlist the help of a large group of men ordered to entrap the unsuspecting and file a report about their forbidden sexual abomination. This effort eventually became known as the Newport Navy Vice Scandal of 1919. As bad as it would have been to keep it confined within the Navy itself, three of the men make allegations that result in the arrest of a cherished civilian, the Reverend Kent.

William Bartlett is a junior lawyer from a respected family. He is a morally upstanding man whose wife Sarah is very active in social causes. Through her, he first meets the Reverend Kent, a deeply kind and genuinely good man who is thoughtful, measured, humble, and driven to care for and help those around him. When William hears that Reverend Kent has been accused of sexual impropriety, of the horror of homosexuality, he is appalled that anyone could ever believe this of such a morally upright man and he urges the Reverend to fight the charges. But if William is certain that Kent is innocent, he still weighs his unease over the scandalous nature of the charges, struggling between his desire to live up to his father's memory and do right and to protect his family and career from the dishonor of being associated with such a court case.

The novel is told in third person with emphasis on William, Kent, and several of the men participating in this witch hunt, including Charlie McKinney, a charismatic, opportunistic young man who lived on the streets and survived on his wits, and naive seventeen year old Barker, who idolizes Charlie. The revolving narration allows the readers to know a little more about each man and the things that drive him. The bulk of the narration focuses on William and his grappling with the understanding that justice doesn't always serve right and that there's more to good and evil than guilt or innocence, especially in the case of socially constructed morality. In general the characters are a bit uneven in their own portrayal, hewing to type rather than being balanced out by imperfections: the conscientious lawyer fighting for right, the saintly reverend ministering to the dying and the lonely, the former street urchin who finds his own moral fiber, the angry caricature of a Navy man determined to punish and threaten and intimidate anyone he can. But the story is a gripping one, and the tension rises at a steady pace with the outcome of the trial in doubt right to the very end. That this is based on a true event in our history adds another layer of fascination to the tale and gives us insight into the ways in which we have progressed as a society as well as the ways in which we are clearly the descendants of these men, so constrained by their preconceived ideas that they cannot admit to a gentler, less unbending truth. ( )
  whitreidtan | Nov 12, 2014 |
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With America's entry into World War I, the population of Newport, Rhode Island, seems to double overnight as twenty-five thousand rowdy recruits descend on the Naval Training Station. Drinking, prostitution, and other depravities follow the sailors, transforming the upscale town into what many residents including young lawyer William Bartlett, whose genteel family has lived in Newport for generations consider to be a moral cesspool. When sailors accuse a beloved local clergyman of sexual impropriety, William feels compelled to fight back. He agrees to defend the minister against the shocking allegations, in the face of dire personal and professional consequences. But when the trial grows increasingly sensational, and when outrageous revelations echo all the way from Newport to the federal government, William must confront more than just the truth he must confront the very nature of good and evil.… (more)

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