Lieutenant Hornblower by C.S. Forester
Published by Little, Brown and Co.
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Lieutenant Hornblower by C. S. Forester is the second of the Hornblower books in terms of internal chronology, although it was written well after many books that come later in Hornblower's life. It is also unusual in not being written from Hornblower's point of view. Instead the viewpoint character is one Lieutenant Bush, a shipmate of his.
Bush is just joining the wardroom of the Renown, on which Hornblower is the most junior lieutenant. It is not a happy ship. The captain is a tyrant, obsessed with the idea that his officers are conspiring to undermine his authority. In return he constantly diminishes their authority while favoring his crew. The situation is ripe for trouble.
The lieutenants, rather like the officers of the Caine in Herman Wouk's WWII classic The Caine Mutiny, despair of ever ridding themselves of a captain whose conduct is actively deterimental to the efficiency of the ship. Anticipating the very arguments that were brought against the Caine officers, they know that anything they say against the captain will only be used against them in a court-martial. If they claim he was crazy, he will simply say that they are unhappy and mutinous, particularly when the ship's surgeon refuses to stand behind them. Worse, the stakes are much higher in the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic Wars than they would be in the WWII US Navy. The lieutenants may well face death, not merely disgrace and dismissal from the service.
One night they gather for a secret meeting, only to have one of Captain Sawyer's informers come spying on them. During the ensuing confusion, the captain mysteriously stumbles and falls down a hatch and is badly injured. With him in sick bay, the first lieutenant takes over effective command, although always careful to be acting in the name of the captain.
However, such temporary solutions have a habit of making things worse in the long run. Captain Sawyer is steadily recovering as they approach the West Indies, and he may yet undo all the good they have accomplished. The lieutenants soon become convinced that they cannot allow him to reach Jamaica alive. However, they must not soil their own hands with his blood. At the same time, they must deal with a Spanish garrison that is supporting pirates.
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Hornblower's story continues in Hornblower and the Hotspur.
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Review posted January 17, 2000
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