The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian

Published by Norton

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian is the fourth installment in the popular Aubrey/Maturin Chronicles. After freight money for carrying a valuable cargo of gems from India to England has finally made Jack Aubrey's fortune, he has married his sweetheart. However, his troubles are not yet over, for his mother-in-law has fallen on hard times and now lives with them and their twin daughters. Although Jack had formerly longed for the peace of a country cottage, his finds the actuality stifling.

Release comes in the form of a visit from his old friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin, a surgeon and naturalist who also leads a secret double life as an intelligence agent for the British Crown. With him comes the long-awaited news that Jack is to be given a sea command once again. He will command a sizeable ship in a force sent to capture the islands of Mauritius and La Reunion, and there is the possibility that he may be made commodore of the entire group.

Off to the Cape of Good Hope they sail, on the way capturing a French ship and gaining much-needed supplies. Jack is confirmed as commodore of the squadron, a temporary status which involves no real advancement in rank but gives him power equivalent to that of an admiral while he holds it. However, things are not well with his fleet. One of his captains is a foolish fop, more interested in the beauty of his cabin's accoutrements than of the operation of his ship. Another is a brutal disciplinarian whose obsession for brightwork and the perfect polish of his ship's deck make him about as popular among his crew as Captain Queeg was in Herman Wouk's WWII classic The Caine Mutiny.

They arrive to find themselves sorely outnumbered. Stephen Maturin sets in motion a desperate plan to turn the hearts of the inhabitants through a campaign of propaganda, but that will take time to work. In the meantime, the British force must fight against terrible odds. All the time there lingers the terrible possibility that all his triumphs may count for nothing, for there is always the possibility that a senior admiral may suddenly arrive to take all the credit.

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Review posted January 1, 2000

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