Hornblower and the Atropos by C.S. Forester

Published by Little, Brown and Co.

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Hornblower and the Atropos by C. S. Forester is the fourth of the Hornblower books in terms of internal chronology (or the fifth if one counts Hornblower in the Crisis, unfinished at the time of the author's death), although it was written after several of the books detailing his later life. It is now 1806, and we find Hornblower hurrying back to London after a brief period of leave, in order to take his new command.

After a difficult journey by canal boat, he arrives in London to discover that he is to be in charge of the waterborn procession for the funeral of Lord Nelson, recently slain at the Battle of Trafalgar. This is a disaster waiting to happen, for he must somehow co-ordinate the movement of dozens of awkward ceremonial barges down the Thames. As it happens, he narrowly averts trouble when the lead barge, in which Nelson's coffin is placed, springs a leak and threatens to sink to the muddy bottom.

This task puts him in an excellent position to meet Lord St. Vincent, who is now First Lord of the Admiralty and as such has considerable favor at his disposal. The crusty old admiral presents Hornblower to King George III, who promptly saddles him with a new midshipman of a most troubling nature -- a deposed princeling from a German principality overrun by Napoleon's forces.

Then Hornblower is off to assume command of his new ship. The Atropos is bound for the Levant, where it is to salvage treasure from a sunken ship. However, the man in charge of the Ceylonese pearl divers who are to do the actual recovery is a prickly fellow, while the new surgeon is the German princeling's arrogant chief of staff. Suddenly their animosity erupts into a duel, threatening the entire operation.

Firm words from Hornblower move the surgeon to save the divemaster's life, and they procede with salvage operations. However, the Turks who are masters of Greece in those days are wising up to just what is going on. Hornblower must find a way to get the gold safely away.

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Hornblower's story continues in Beat to Quarters.

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Review posted January 17, 2000

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