Beat to Quarters by C.S. Forester
Published by Little, Brown and Co.
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Beat to Quarters by C. S. Forester was the first of the Hornblower books to have been written, although it comes roughly in the middle of the internal chronology. Hornblower is a post captain on a secret mission to support a rebel against the Spanish Empire in Central America. However, he soon discovers that things are not all that they seem. The rebel is a madman and has decreed his own divinity, taking the title of El Supremo (roughly translated, "The Almighty") and executing all who displease him by having them tied to stakes and left to die of slow dehydration.
Much as Hornblower detests this man, orders are orders, so he joins forces with El Supremo and sets his wits to capturing the Spanish frigate Natividad. This he accomplishes in a surprising night action that involves no casualties on his own ship.
But he has no sooner captured the ship than El Supremo decrees that its captain and other senior officers should be executed as a means of terrorizing the rest of the crew into declaring for him. Hornblower must find some ruse to save these men's lives, since he accepted their honorable surrender.
Satisfied that he has done his duty, Hornblower heads off to Panama City, where he learns that Spain has switched sides and is now allied with England. Now everything he did to aid El Supremo is a disaster, and he must find some way to stop the mad rebel. Worse yet, he must also convey the beautiful Lady Barbara Wellesley back safely to England. Only Hornblower could carry off all this with perfect aplomb.
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Hornblower's story continues in Ship of the Line.
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Review posted January 20, 2000
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