Alexander Kent,
Richard Bolitho #16: Colours Aloft!
(Arrow, 1987; McBooks, 2000)

In 1803, Vice-Admiral Richard Bolitho suffers great personal losses in his cruise against the French in the Mediterranean.

Even as Nelson tries to lure the great French fleet out to sea, Bolitho -- with a tiny fleet of his own -- is tasked with patrolling the Mediterranean for French ships that have slipped free of the British blockade. French Admiral Jobert is also at sea, and he bears a grudge against Bolitho that must come to a head before either man is satisfied. Meanwhile, Bolitho's nephew, Adam, is given his first command, a brig, and is serving in a different capacity close by.

But a personal matter -- involving a noble but technically illegal action by Bolitho's fleet captain, Valentine Keen -- forces Bolitho and Keen to abandon the rest of the fleet to answer charges at an official hearing, painfully overseen by one of Bolitho's oldest and dearest friends -- and of course, it's during their absence that Jobert chooses to strike.

There are heartbreaking losses in store for Bolitho and his men, including the death of a longtime friend and supporting character in the series, and an injury to Bolitho himself that could forever change the course of his career in the service.

Like pieces of a chessboard, the various ships and players in the story are drawn together for a dramatic, vividly written conclusion at sea. The book, especially near the end, is hard to put down, solidifying Alexander Kent as one of the best writers in the surprisingly vast market for British naval fiction.

Kent also has penned one of the longest-running series in the genre, and there's still plenty more to go.

book review by
Tom Knapp

15 October 2016

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