Alexander Kent,
The Flag Captain
(Hutchinson, 1971; McBooks, 1999)

Refreshingly enough, The Flag Captain begins with Richard Bolitho captaining the flag ship of an admiral he likes, admires and, amazingly, gets along with. This is so unusual in this series that I just knew something would happen to change that -- and it does, the admiral dies fairly quickly in the narrative. He is replaced with a new admiral who -- let's all guess -- doesn't much like this upstart Bolitho or his methods.

Even though we're dealing once again with the overused trope that places our hero beneath the command of an uncooperative leader, The Flag Captain is packed with action and intrigue. It begins in merry old England, where the great mutiny at Spithead is just past, and Bolitho is called upon, secretly, to deal with a single ship that missed out on the fun and wants its own tiny rebellion.

That out of the way, Bolitho's ship the Euryalus and its small fleet are sent to the Mediterranean, now under the French heel, to take an island fortress and give the Brits a foothold in that strategically vital sea. There's plenty to do there -- sea battles, pirates and even a twist of treason -- before they even arrive at the island, where there are maneuvers and assaults by land in store.

There are times, still, where Bolitho seems to fight his way through impossible a little too easily, without ample explanation for how he did it. One scene in particular stands out where Bolitho's strategy anticipates the groundbreaking tactics employed by Nelson at Trafalgar years later, which seems to be cheating a bit. And there is yet another romantic plot line that seems forced.

But I keep reading this series by Alexander Kent because Bolitho is a strong character, the action is powerful and bloody, and the books are just too good to stop. They're not the best nautical tomes on the market, but they're still pretty close to the top of the list.

book review by
Tom Knapp

26 April 2014

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