C. Northcote Parkinson,
Richard Delancey #3: The Fireship
(Houghton Mifflin, 1975; McBooks, 2002)

In this volume, Delancey finds himself aboard the HMS Glatton, an unconventional ship built for commerce, not war, and which was bought into the service from the East India Company. As such, she's not designed to handle many cannons typical in a British frigate, nor is she a good sailor in heavy weather.

At the request of her captain, real-life British hero Henry Trollope, the Glatton is outfitted with massive carronades, rather than the usual cannons, and that means she has an unusually powerful punch -- at the expense of range. Unless she can get up close to her foes, the Glatton is a sitting duck. Delancey and her crew will have ample opportunity to test the captain's theories of battle at sea.

A more pressing concern presents itself, however, when the British navy mutinies, first at Spithead and then Nore. Glatton is quickly sent on patrol to avoid being embroiled in the sorry affair, but even on blockade duty in the North Sea, word spreads and the Glatton's crew decides to strike for better pay and treatment.

Soon, Delancey finds himself acting as a lawyer, defending a fellow officer accused of murdering a crewman. And then, he finds himself aboard another ship, HMS Russell, also serving under Trollope, in time to participate in the Battle of Camperdown, a decisive action by the British against a Dutch fleet.

But when Delancey is denied the promotion he believes he deserves (in favor of another officer who missed the battle entirely), he resigns from the Russell and takes his chances with a new assignment. And he's in luck; he's posted to the command of the tiny Spitfire -- designed for use as a fireship, although that style of naval combat has fallen out of favor -- patrolling the Irish coast to prevent the French from stirring up the troubles there.

Author C. Northcote Parkinson, if you haven't already noticed, doesn't waste time. His books, although comparatively slim when compared to some volumes from the Age of Sail, keep his protagonist busy. And that makes for a pretty exciting read.

And Delancey, who did not have the best of luck in the previous volume, certainly is seeing his fortunes rise here. Parkinson wrote three more books in this series before his death, so I am looking forward to seeing where he goes from here.

book review by
Tom Knapp

2 December 2017

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