Alexander Kent,
Richard Bolitho #21: For My Country's Freedom
(Highseas, 1995; McBooks, 2000)

As if the British navy didn't have enough to contend with in its never-ending war with France, but now the United States -- so recently victorious in its revolution -- is likely to declare a new war on England. It's 1811, and Admiral Richard Bolitho is called upon to do his part to prevent another conflict.

But frankly, Bolitho would rather stay at his Cornish home with his mistress, Lady Catherine.

For My Country's Freedom is a lot about duty, and Bolitho will never fail to answer the call, no matter his personal feelings about it. Bolitho's merry band of loyal followers -- including his nephew Adam, who commands a frigate in the admiral's small fleet; his newly married coxswain, Allday, and his badly scarred flag captain, Tyacke -- also have their parts to play in the unfolding drama.

Matters are complicated by the unexpected suicide of a woman loved by two men in Bolitho's immediate orbit, and the defeat and capture of a favored frigate captain by an American ship.

I'm a big fan of Alexander Kent's Bolitho series, but this book stumbles. For one thing, the story drags between brief bursts of action; Kent these days seems much more interested in romantic drama than naval conflict. Much of the book centers around Richard Bolitho's passionate love for his mistress, as well as Adam Bolitho's passionate love for the woman he took advantage of during a period of grief in an earlier novel. The fact that nearly every male character in the book also feels passionate love -- or, in the case of Bolitho's crew, undying devotion -- for Bolitho's mistress grows tiresome after a while. You know what would be refreshing? If someone didn't flirt with her.

Kent (aka Douglas Reeman) is a good writer, and after 20 novels in the series his characters are like old friends. Thus, I was never tempted to put the book down and move onto something else; I want to know what happens to these people, and it's never outside the realm of possibility that a beloved character will fall in a sudden burst of action. But For My Country's Freedom is among the weaker books in this series; I hope it's a hiccup and not a sign of things to come in the remaining Bolitho novels.

book review by
Tom Knapp

24 June 2017

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