Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review of Certainty by Victor Bevine

Certainty by Victor Bevine
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: October 21, 2014
Length: 358 pages
Source: Publisher, through TLC Book Tours

Synopsis from Publisher: When you’re fighting an injustice, can it be wrong to do what’s right? Inspired by the scandalous true story that shocked a nation at the close of WWI.

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. Based on real-life events, Certainty recalls a war-torn era when the line between right and wrong became dangerously blurred.

My Thoughts: In Victor Bevine’s novel Certainty, a civilian minister and a group of sailors are accused of sodomy by a special unit of Naval Intelligence in Newport, Rhode Island just after the end of World War I. The homophobia of that time comes as no great surprise, of course. What makes this book interesting is Bevine’s exploration of why these events occurred and how they played out in court in what came to be known as the Newport Navy Vice Scandal.

While I thought the case itself was fascinating, Certainty didn’t completely succeed for me as a novel. Many of the characters felt flat and undeveloped to me. Bevine portrayed the minister, Rev. Kent, as a man too good to be true; I would have found him to be a much more interesting character if he had a few believable flaws. William Bartlett, the young lawyer defending Rev. Kent, did not come alive for me as a character, either. The motivations of Chief Petty Officer Arnold, the homophobic leader of the unit pursuing the “fairies” (to use the term popular at the time), are murky, so he comes across as nothing more than a cardboard villain.

The most complex character in the novel is Charlie, one of the sailors who testifies in court against Rev. Kent. Bevine presents him as a young man on the make, an opportunist who always puts himself first, in his career in the Navy and in his relationship with Dottie, a local prostitute. Only Charlie really comes off the page as a fully developed, multi-dimensional character. I would have loved to read more about Charlie; to me, the sections of Certainty that focus on Charlie are the strongest and most nuanced parts of the novel.

Bevine indicates in his Author’s Note at the end of this novel that he first wrote about the Newport Navy Vice Scandal as a screenplay. I don’t know if there are plans in the works to produce Bevine's screenplay, but I think Certainty would work much better as a movie or TV mini-series than as a novel. As I read the book, I kept thinking to myself that I could see each chapter enfolding as a scene in a movie; the narrative structure really felt more like a screenplay than a novel. I would love to see a well-produced movie based on the events detailed in Certainty.

I would rate Certainty a 3 out of 5 stars. Despite my criticisms of the novel, I do think the topic is interesting and worthwhile, and many readers would enjoy the story.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Lake Union Publishing through TLC Book Tours. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to participate in the blog tour for this book. You can visit the other stops on the Certainty tour at the official tour site here.

About Victor Bevine: For over thirty years, Victor Bevine has worked as an actor, screenwriter, audio book narrator, director, and more. A graduate of Yale University, his acting credits include many prestigious roles onstage as well as roles in the film version of A Separate Peace and countless television shows. He has read over one hundred and eighty titles as an audiobook narrator; in 2010, he received an Audiophone Award for his narration of the Pulitzer Prize–winning book The Beak of the Finch. He has written several screenplays, including Certainty, which was chosen for two prestigious writers’ conferences and which served as the basis for his first novel. His thirty-minute short film Desert Cross, which he wrote and directed, won accolades at the Athens International Film Festival. Currently, he serves as CEO of the World Freerunning Parkour Federation (WFPF), of which he is co-founder. He resides in New York City.


  1. I really liked this one, but that could also be because I went into it with zero expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I thought the dynamics of that time in history were interesting and I liked his writing style despite occasional lapses into psychobabble.

    1. Psychobabble--LOL. Yes, there was some of that. I really did feel interested in the topic and the scandal . . I just wished some of the characters had been written better. But I'm not sorry I read the book. You know, since I'm thinking about Nonfiction November now, it just struck me that I would probably have really enjoyed a good nonfiction account of the scandal!

  2. I enjoyed this book. It's not great literature, that's for sure, but it's not really intended to be. I think of Certainty as comparable to a Grisham book about lawyers and trials. And I must admit, I do enjoy Grisham on occasion.

    1. It's true that's a good, solid courtroom drama! That's why I do think a lot of people would enjoy reading it. Maybe I was just hoping for it to be something more . . .

  3. This sounds like an important read that gives a glimpse into a time not all that long ago. Hopefully we as a society will learn from our mistakes.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

    1. It's sometimes very helpful to have a little reminder that our current views of issues like gender and sexuality are very recent . . .

      I really enjoyed being part of the tour! And I hope to see a screen version of this book someday.