Alexander Kent,
Richard Bolitho #12: Signal -- Close Action!
(Hutchinson, 1974; McBooks, 1999)

Anyone who knows anything about the Napoleonic wars should have at least a passing knowledge of Horatio Nelson's great naval victory at the Nile.

Unless you're a Alexander Kent fan, however, you might not be aware of the pivotal role Commodore Richard Bolitho played in setting the stage for that decisive conflict.

OK, so Bolitho wasn't real, but Kent -- in Signal -- Close Action! -- poses a fascinating series of events. Bolitho, newly promoted and in command of his first squadron, is seeking out the French in a lonely incursion into the Mediterranean. He finds more than he bargained for.

Close Action boasts some fierce fighting, with terrible losses on both sides. As usual, Bolitho makes some bold maneuvers that keep the plot moving forward in an aggressive, sometimes very bloody course.

But Kent doesn't discount the importance of good character development, and Bolitho's relationships with the men around him evolve at a natural pace. Of particular interest are his interactions with his nephew, Lt. Adam Pascoe, as well as his good friend and flag captain Thomas Herrick. Interesting subplots involve the other captains under Bolitho's command, including one who harbors a deadly grudge, and a lieutenant whose promise as an officer is superceded by his cruelty toward his men.

Naval action increases in complexity, too, as Bolitho finds himself commanding not one ship but several, and he moves his tiny fleet around the Mediterranean in a blind chess match against the French. As always, Kent uses a solid knowledge of naval terminology to keep the story interesting and realistic-sounding.

The strength of this series, now at its 12th volume, shows no signs of waning!

book review by
Tom Knapp

2 August 2014

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