Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian

Published by Norton

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian is the second volume of the Aubrey/Maturin Chronicles. As it begins, Jack Aubrey is without a ship, having lost the Sophie in battle (and been cleared of culpability for the loss) at the end of the first book, Master and Commander. As soon as he arrives in London, he visits the Admiralty to make his case for being given a new command at sea. Unfortunately the senior command has changed, and the new First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl St. Vincent, has formed an unfavorable opinion of him.

While he is stuck on shore, trying to make the best of a bad situation, he and Stephen Maturin meet the lovely daughters of the grasping widow Mrs. Williams. But then things go from bad to worse when Aubrey's prize agent goes bankrupt, absconding with all his prize money and leaving him severely in debt. Suddenly in danger of being put in debtors' prison, he takes refuge in France, with Maturin keeping him company.

However they have no sooner landed at Calais than Napoleon breaks the fragile peace with England and begins interning British nationals. Aubrey and Maturin narrowly escape internment through a desperate journey through France to Spain. There Aubrey discovers a new facet to his friend -- a castle (albeit in ruins) in Spain is part of the physician's possessions.

At long last Aubrey returns to England and makes his case to the Admiralty to get him a new command at sea. Finally a ship is found for him, the Polychrest, an experimental design which has come to be regarded as unlucky. Aubrey must evade the tipstaffs who would arrest him for debt in order to take command of his new ship.

But even there things are not well. Aubrey is forced to accept a lieutenant, a special friend of the Duke of Clarence, who is a hard, brutal man. Soon the entire crew is discontented and on the verge of mutiny.

Things get worse after Maturin returns from an undercover trip to Spain. Because of the secrecy of his mission, he is claiming that he spent the entire time in Ireland. Aubrey disputes that during an argument, unwittingly striking a blow against his friend's honor. Suddenly the two men are preparing to fight a duel, something that both dread but neither can find any acceptable way around.

Before they can meet on the field of honor, Aubrey receives orders to take the Polychrest against French shore installations. Suddenly they are served an opportunity to defuse both mutiny and duel, if only they have the wit and courage to see the way through it.

(Fans of the Hornblower series may note that the capture of the Spanish treasure ships is an event that also appears in Hornblower and the Hotspur.

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Review posted January 1, 2000

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