David Donachie,
The Privateersman Mysteries #6: A Game of Bones
(Macmillan, 1997; McBooks, 2003)

A Game of Bones is, sadly, the final volume in David Donachie's series of Privateersman Mysteries featuring Harry Ludlow, late of His Majesty's Royal Navy, but now taking his chances on his own ship, Bucephalas. He is returning to England after adventures (and misadventures) overseas, and his mood is black after the death of the woman he loved -- although, let's be honest, he didn't know her all that well. Ludlow is cruel to his men, harsh with his friends, unfeeling even to his brother, James, who sails with them.

I was prepared to dislike this book, as it dragged on with its now-unlikable protagonist. When he sends his ship and crew carelessly into action and is soundly trounced, Ludlow seems to be at the nadir of his career.

Fortunately, the right bit of encouragement -- including a recollection of the great Nelson -- restores Ludlow's temper, if not his luck. His homecoming is not a pleasant one, as he sails into fleet-wide mutinies at Spithead and Nore, as well as a staggering personal financial crisis.

There's a way out for Ludlow, of course -- but of course it's not going to be easy.

A Game of Bones may just be my favorite book of the series, although it does not include the usual elements of a mystery. There is plenty of action, at sea and on land, and a clever antagonist who puts Ludlow in his place more than once. The climactic encounter between them is white-knuckle action from start to finish.

It doesn't feel as though Donachie intended this to be his last Ludlow book, as some matters are left unresolved -- Ludlow's finances, for one, and a pert Irish lady who seems likely to take his mind off past losses in New Orleans. But, a solid 15 years later, it's probably safe to say Donachie is content to leave Ludlow's fate uncharted. I for one enjoyed this series thoroughly and am sad to see it end.

book review by
Tom Knapp

22 November 2014

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