C.S. Forester,
Hornblower During the Crisis
(Little, Brown & Co., 1950; Back Bay, 1999)

The biggest problem with Hornblower During the Crisis is that C.S. Forester died before finishing it.

It sets up quite a story. Horatio Hornblower is a captain without a ship, having been promoted from commander to post captain by retiring Fleet Admiral Cornwallis but, as a result, losing his sloop of war, Hotspur, which is too lowly in the British navy for a post captain to command. Shortly thereafter, Hornblower is called to testify at the court-martial of his successor, who wasted no time in running the sloop aground. He sails for England on a small supply ship, engages in dramatic action against overwhelming odds and captures secret French documents. Then, while cooling his heels in London, he inadvertently shares a scheme with the Secretary to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that could bring the French fleet out into a long-awaited conflict with the British. Hornblower himself, rather than getting the ship he desires, is commissioned to carry out the scheme.

And the book ends. Damn you, mortality!

The story is enjoyable right up to the point it leaves you hanging. But at least there is a one-page summary of what was to come, drawn from Forester's notes. We learn that Hornblower's eventual success would have led right to Trafalgar, a major victory for the British navy. But it's the getting there that matters, and I mourn the loss of Forester's great prose that would have led to the inevitable conclusion.

As a bonus, there are two short stories, one set early in Hornblower's career and the other, more whimsical, set much, much later. My only complaint here is that the latter tale revealed more about Hornblower's future than I was ready to know.

All in all, it's worth reading, although I wish I'd saved that last story for later. Certainly I'd love to read Forester's conclusion to Crisis, but I'm still grateful for the portions we have.

review by
Tom Knapp

26 September 2009

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