British Invasions, Successful and Not
Dewey Lambdin takes his popular high-seas hero, Captain Alan Lewrie, to the South Atlantic
by Ralph Bowden
Thanks to slow and unreliable communications between the admiralty and ships at sea, naval officers such as fictional hero Captain Alan Lewrie could often exercise considerable independence once out of port. In Hostile Shores, Dewey Lambin’s nineteenth Alan Lewrie adventure, however, Captain Lewrie’s frigate, Reliant, is under the command of a half-baked commodore with dreams of grandeur. Lewrie nevertheless finds ways to maneuver, sometimes stepping on toes or taking considerable risks. His adventures here, as always, are rollicking good yarns, with authentic details and characters, a hero, his ship, and lots of excitement.
Lewrie has been on guard duty in the Bahamas, and it takes fifteen chapters for Lambdin to bring him back to Portsmouth, where he must negotiate a Byzantine bureaucracy to find facilities to scrape Reliant’s bottom. These preliminaries serve to introduce Captain Lewrie, his typical sailorly lusts, the healthy relationship between the relatively mellow and un-egotistic captain and his crew, and his place in the navy hierarchy.
With Reliant’s hull finally clean, Lewrie’s new assignment is to catch up with a flotilla of warships escorting an invasion force to wrest Cape Town from the Dutch. Once there, he must submit to the well-connected commodore of the venture and negotiate a support role for his crew. He goes ashore as a combatant—a heady experience for both him and his men. But then the commodore hears of the great British victory at Trafalgar and the death of the revered national hero Admiral Horatio Nelson. Deciding to assume the mantle of the great man himself, he conceives a scheme to sail across the South Atlantic to Argentina, where he has heard a rebellion against Spain is brewing. Lewrie has doubts about the venture but follows orders.
A thoroughly likeable sort, Captain Lewrie is dismissive of the honors bestowed upon him and the elaborate forms and rituals of rank. Like any sailor, he can be crude and ribald, but he has a heart, too: at one point, he believes some members of his crew deserve a flogging, but he can’t bring himself to order it. Instead, he calls his officers together to make a collective decision, all while lashing himself for his weakness: “Captaining by committee? … Damme, just how bone-idle lazy do I appear?” Still, Lewrie always weathers the storm, heals from the wound, scores with the lady, and rises above complaints about a leadership style that sometimes skirts the rules.
Like all the volumes in this series, Hostile Shores is full of the nautical terms of the time: “Once our first broadside is delivered, we will haul our wind as quick as dammit, take the wind fine on the quarter, even wear if we have to, t’keep her in close gun range.” While this may be Greek to the general reader, it takes nothing away from the narrative drive and adds to the novel’s sense of authenticity. So too does the wonderful dialogue, characteristic of the time and place. In an afterword that fills in the historical context of the story, Lambdin hints that Captain Lewrie will return in further adventures featuring women, intrigues, and battles on the high seas. We wait impatiently.
Published Tuesday, 5 February 2013