Flying Colours by C.S. Forester

Published by Little, Brown and Co.

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Flying Colours by C. S. Forester was the third Hornblower book to be written. Taking up directly from the end of Ship of the Line, it begins with Hornblower a prisoner of war in the fortress overlooking the bit of sea where he fought a hopeless battle against a much larger French force. Now his commander brings in a larger force to avenge him, thoroughally destroying the surviving French ships.

However, this does not mean liberation for Hornblower, for they made no attempt to invest the fortress or free its inmates. Worse yet, a new capture brings news which can only madden the jealousy that burns within his heart. Admiral Leighton, husband of the lovely Lady Barbara, has been wounded during the battle and was taken below to the surgeon. However, the new prisoner cannot tell Hornblower whether Leighton's wound was minor or severe. Worse, even if Leighton were to die, Hornblower would be no freer so long as his own wife lives.

Worse is still to come, for then the French remove him from the fortress to be taken to Paris. There he is to stand trial as a pirate for having used a false French flag as a ruse in order to more closely approach certain targets (this was considered acceptable at the time, so long as one switched to one's own flag even a few seconds before opening fire, hence the expression "showing one's true colors"). This will be a show trial, and the verdict and sentence have already been decided -- he will be shot.

Along with Hornblower comes his first lieutenant and good friend, Lieutenant Bush, who lost a foot in the fateful battle. This necessarily hampers Hornblower's attempt to escape, but he will not even consider abandoning Bush to the firing squad and escaping alone. Only when he is able to find a way to take Bush along with him does he finally break out. His troubles are not yet over, for he must now find a way to convey his convalescing friend across a goodly portion of France and then find a way to cross the English Channel to safety.

Nelson buffs will enjoy the cameo appearance of Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy, who was Nelson's flag captain at Trafalgar.

Click here to order Flying Colours in paperback.

Hornblower's story continues in Commodore Hornblower.

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Review posted January 20, 2000

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