Dudley Pope,
Ramage & the Guillotine
(Martin Secker & Warburg, 1975;
McBooks, 2000)

It begins with a hearty breakfast, as all good adventures should, of cold tongue and oysters.

Then there's a grand ball, and an urgent message to Lord St. Vincent and Lord Nelson, and before you know it, Lt. Nicholas Ramage has been assigned to penetrate revolutionary France and determine whether Bonaparte's Army of England, which has been massing along the French coastline, has much chance of crossing the English Channel. The mission requires the aid of smugglers, including a navy deserter whom Ramage has had flogged, and a great deal of intrigue in France to avoid the highly suspicious officials of Napoleon's government.

Ramage & the Guillotine lacks the action at sea that is a hallmark of this series, and it once again counts on the protagonist's amazing good luck to see him through. Ramage needs information, and he meets an innkeeper who knows who will carry the necessary despatches -- as well as when and where he will carry them -- and thinks nothing of sharing that information with a foreign stranger. He intercepts the courier and immediately finds exactly the letter he needs. It's lazy writing, and Pope is usually better than that.

The story picks up when Ramage is inevitably arrested, and his acquaintance with the guillotine becomes a real possibility. (There are more books in the series, so it's a safe bet he won't die here.) Still, I look forward to seeing Lt. Ramage back at sea, where he belongs, in his next adventure.

book review by
Tom Knapp

1 March 2014

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