C. Northcote Parkinson,
Devil to Pay
(Houghton Mifflin, 1973; McBooks, 2001)

Despite showing promise as an officer in the King's Navy in his debut novel, The Guernseyman, Richard Delancey begins his second book of adventures ashore and in something of a disgrace for testifying during court-martial proceedings against his former captain.

An opportunity appears, however, when his availability -- and disposability -- makes him a suitable candidate for a secret mission to coastal France. When that mission goes awry -- through no fault of his own -- Delancey takes advantage of yet another opportunity to put his talents to work on a revenue cutter, trying (fruitlessly) to stem the tide of illegal contraband being smuggled ashore.

Again, Delancey proves more than adequate at the task. While he by no means stops the trade, he makes enough of a dent in a very short time that he's offered the captaincy of a privateer in order to divert his attentions elsewhere. He continues to excel ... until a spell of bad luck strands him ashore in France.

Can he take advantage of the situation to uncover valuable intelligence regarding the pending alliance between France and Spain? And how will he return home to England if he does?

The book begins confusingly for someone coming straight from The Guernseyman, the first book in this series by C. Northcote Parkinson. There's a gap of some 11 years, so readers might be confused by Delancey's situation. Keep reading: Parkinson didn't write this series in order anyway. (This was actually the first book in the series when he wrote it, so the ambiguity was intentional. The Guernseyman wouldn't be written for another decade.)

Delancey is perhaps a little too lucky in each of his endeavors in this book -- his career to date has been fairly undistinguished, it seems, so a consistent run of good fortunate seems unlikely. You also won't learn much about him beyond his adventures in this book; his past and his family aren't discussed.

But it's an enjoyable book nonetheless, with a series of varied adventures to keep our protagonist occupied. It's safe to assume his further exploits in the British navy will be entertaining to read.

book review by
Tom Knapp

28 October 2017

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