David Donachie,
The Privateersman Mysteries No. 4: An Element of Chance
(Macmillan, 1991; McBooks, 2002)

For the first portion of An Element of Chance, the fourth book in David Donachie's Privateersman Mysteries, the biggest flaw is the lack of its protagonist.

Sure, ship's captain Harry Ludlow makes a few appearances here and there, but most of the action takes place in the Caribbean, thousands of miles from Ludlow's current position, or onboard a British navy frigate, whose captain illegally pressed half of Ludlow's crew. Of course, Ludlow sets sail in pursuit -- after obtaining the necessary documents to force his crew's return -- but, as I said, he doesn't dominate the first half of the book.

Instead, we're given island politics, a pirate who is not who he claims to be, and an odd subplot involving a mongoose and a collection of poisonous snakes. There's also a murder, and the man accused of the deed may not be the killer after all.

But then Ludlow arrives, accompanies as always by his brother, James -- but not, in this case, his comrade Pender, who was among those pressed into naval service. Ludlow immediately sets about trying to retrieve his men while at the same time finding himself embroiled in the local murder and piracy issues. Pender, meanwhile, is dealing with a tyrant of a captain and the inevitable rumblings of mutiny.

It's another solid entry in the series, and the climactic sea battle is a hoot. David Donachie is among the best writers of nautical fiction set in the Age of Sail, and his added mysteries give the series a unique twist. Strongly recommended.

book review by
Tom Knapp

26 July 2014

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