David Donachie,
The Privateersman Mysteries No. 5:
The Scent of Betrayal

(Macmillan, 1996; McBooks, 2003)

There's something to be said for discovering a series late in the game.

Rather than waiting years between novels in David Donachie's series of Privateersman Mysteries, I've been able to read them in a continuous blast. And, while some books in the series have been stronger than others, there's no question Donachie's protagonists -- ship's captain Harry Ludlow, his artistic brother James and his servant/best friend Pender -- make for interesting reading.

The Scent of Betrayal is one of the stronger books in the series. After fleeing a French naval invasion of St. Croix in his lean frigate, Bucephalas, Ludlow is saddled with a throng of French Royalists, whose own ship was lost in the action but who managed to retain a valuable chest of their ill-gotten gains (see the previous volume, An Element of Chance, for details). He decides the settlement of New Orleans -- Spanish-held but with a large French population -- would serve nicely for them, but his journey north is interrupted when he finds a derelict Spanish ship, loaded with sugar and other goods but lacking a crew. He later finds evidence that its captain and at least some of its sailors were horribly tortured and killed.

When he brings this news to the Spanish governor at New Orleans, however, he finds himself under suspicion of piracy. His ship is blockaded, the French treasure is confiscated and Ludlow -- a sitting duck under the heavy guns of two Spanish forts and surrounded by a small fleet of galleys -- is at a loss how to escape. His eventual plan involves a dangerous journey up the Mississippi River, at the mercy of a Kentucky frontiersman who, days before, was only to happy to trade blows with Ludlow over the affections of a local courtesan.

This has been an excellent series, and The Scent of Betrayal ranks among its better volumes. I'm disappointed to say only one book in the series remains -- although I look forward to reading the final chapter in Ludlow's adventures.

book review by
Tom Knapp

6 September 2014

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