Dudley Pope,
Governor Ramage R.N.
(Martin Secker & Warburg, 1973;
McBooks, 2000)

It's been far too long since I set sail with Nicholas Ramage.

Ramage is the eponymous hero of Dudley Pope's long-running series of adventures set in the Age of Sail. After reading -- and thoroughly enjoying -- the first three books in the series, I found myself adrift for a few years. Now, I'm back on the quarterdeck with Governor Ramage R.N.

This time, Ramage is serving as lieutenant in command of the brig Triton and is part of a British navy escort of a massive convoy of merchant ships bound for Jamaica. One ship in particular is carrying especially valuable cargo -- important and secretive passengers, actually -- who must not fall into enemy hands. It's a given privateers will make an attempt at some point during the voyage -- and that Ramage will be on hand to deflect it.

The mission is complicated by Ramage's own lack of favor with superior officers in the fleet. One in particular will do anything to disgrace the young lieutenant, and the voyage will offer plenty of opportunities for a fatal misstep.

A massive hurricane is another hitch -- and here in particular, Pope excels with fine storytelling that puts the reader on deck as the winds howl and waves surge over the scuppers. There's also a little time spent on a tropical island, of sorts -- and a treasure hunt that is perhaps just a trifle silly and too easily resolved -- and a tense, high-stakes court-martial proceeding on charges of cowardice that could ruin Ramage's career, or end his life.

My only significant complaint? Call me old-fashioned, but the first two novels set Ramage up for a big romance. In the third book, he went astray with a governor's secretary in Grenada. Now here, again, he finds his loyalties tested, and his romantic attentions wander far afield from the girl he left behind.

Oh sure, I know what they say about sailors and their women in every port. Even the likes of Aubrey and Hornblower -- the former especially -- found being true to their lady wives at home a sore challenge. Still, one might wish Ramage could at least spare his lady Gianna a passing thought.

That aside, I'm happy to say I have the next few Ramage books in hand, and I hope not to fall so far behind again!

book review by
Tom Knapp

28 December 2013

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