Dudley Pope,
Ramage's Prize
(Martin Secker & Warburg, 1974;
McBooks, 2000)

In a desperate age of battles at land and sea to prevent the further spread of the Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte, across Europe, one would hardly expect the Royal Post Office to serve as the basis of a dramatic novel.

In the hands of Dudley Pope, however, the mail service is perfect grist for the mill. Ramage's Prize takes Pope's eponymous hero, Lt. Lord Nicholas Ramage, from the sunny Caribbean back to England aboard a mail packet; his mission, based on true events, is to discover why so many ships bearing royal mail have vanished on the high seas, falling prey to French privateers in unprecedented numbers.

Through a bit of naval chicanery, Ramage is able to replace half of the crew of the Lady Arabella with some of his own trusted men and longtime companions. And, while the adventure that unfolds is not the most dramatic of Ramage's many exploits at sea, it does build in tension as the reason for those losses becomes increasingly clear; readers will likely figure it out long before Ramage, although he may be forgiven some incredulity in the matter.

Before he and his crew see England again, there will be poor seamanship, a lukewarm sea battle, wood rot, treason, murder, kidnapping and more, all wrapped up and delivered in a neat parcel befitting Pope's skill at naval wordsmithery.

Those who may have wondered at Ramage's wandering eye will welcome the return of Gianna, his Italian lady love from the first book in the series. She is, as always, a formidable presence.

book review by
Tom Knapp

18 January 2014

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