David Donachie,
The Devil's Own Luck
(Macmillan, 1991; McBooks, 2001)

Harry Ludlow, a former British navy commander, was forced out of the service after a dispute with a superior officer. Now commanding a privateer, he relies on the presence of a distant navy ship to tackle a French frigate -- and loses his own ship in the process.

Now without ship or crew, Ludlow and his younger brother, James, are aboard the old ship of the line Magnanime, captained by an old foe, when a murder occurs and his brother is implicated. Ludlow has until the ship reaches Gibraltar to prove James' innocence -- and neither the officers nor crew of Magnanime are very cooperative in his investigation.

David Donachie, whose Nelson & Emma trilogy of biographical novels shed light on Britain's most renowned admiral and his notorious mistress, here combines nautical adventure with a whodunit mystery -- all to good effect. Ludlow is an interesting protagonist, at times his own worst enemy, and there's plenty of room for growth in this series as it continues. His brother and his new servant, the resourceful Pender, provide strong support for the tale.

The plot of The Devil's Own Luck is a bit murky, and it's unlikely readers will solve the murder before Ludlow does. Nautical buffs might be disappointed that the book focuses more on mystery than maneuvers. But it's a good, solid read that provides a nice twist on the naval genre, and I will eagerly tackle the next book in the series.

book review by
Tom Knapp

8 March 2014

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