Dewey Lambdin,
The King's Coat
(Fawcett, 1989; Ballantine, 1998)

I didn't much care for Alan Lewrie at the start of The King's Coat. His father liked him even less -- so much so that he compelled his daughter, Lewrie's half-sister, to seduce him, just so he could be caught in the act and banished, relinquishing all claims to an inheritance from his long-forgotten mother that Lewrie doesn't even know is coming to him.

Nonetheless, the ruse is successful and Lewrie is hussled off to sea, where he will live or die as a midshipman in the King's Navy. Surprisingly, Lewrie -- who has never been good for much in his life -- proves to be good at the job.

Set in 1780, the book places Britain at odds with France, Spain and the fledgling United States. Lewrie finds himself on convoy escorts, message runs and prize-hunting expeditions. By book's end, he'll have served under three captains on three ships, often with distinction but rarely with the greatest of luck.

And he also spends plenty of time ashore. As the book's opening pages suggest, it's at times a bawdy, occasionally raunchy and once or twice nigh pornographic tale. But author Dewey Lambdin doesn't let his penchant for lusty prose get in the way of fine nautical storytelling; Lewrie's adventures at sea are well researched and carefully explained so that even a naval layman can understand what's going on, whether our hero is in the rigging or on the gundeck. There are plenty of tense scenes, such as a duel over a lady's wounded honor and a broadside-to-broadside battle between a British frigate and an American brig.

This series, begun some 25 years ago, still appears to be going strong. It looks like I have a lot of reading to catch up on.

book review by
Tom Knapp

13 December 2014

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