C. Northcote Parkinson,
Richard Delancey #1: The Guernseyman
(Houghton Mifflin, 1973; McBooks, 2001)

Richard Delancey was headed for a safe but unremarkable position as a shipping clerk in the port city of Liverpool when a wrong turn into ongoing labor riots placed him behind bars and, with few options open to him, a "volunteer" position in the British navy. To his own great surprise, he thrives there, serving with some distinction against the American rebels in New York, a French invasion force on the channel island of Jersey, and the combined French and Spanish fleets at Gibraltar.

This series by C. Northcote Parkinson, one of many kept in print by McBooks Press, is another fine example of the genre. Delancey, by no means a Hornblower or Aubrey, stumbles into the navy life but proves more than adequate in the roles assigned him. With the limited means of his merchant parents at his disposal, he is able to procure a midshipman's post, meaning he has some hope for advancement, and he applies himself to his work -- and his education -- with a will. And, while the events of The Guernseyman don't afford him the chance of becoming a hero, he is still able to prove himself an able and resourceful young man to the officers with whom he serves.

Circumstances provide Delancey with more experience on land than at sea, but the novel gives readers an interesting look at life in New York City during the American Revolution, where Delancey serves as a military aide. Too, he provides much-needed assistance on Jersey, where the French launch a desperate invasion that catches the local defenders off guard. And on Gibraltar, where the British hold back a massive attack, Delancey learns a great deal about soldiering.

So, fans of nautical yarns might lament the overall lack of seamanship here, but the story provides solid detail and an interesting perspective on some lively periods in British naval history. Delancey is a good character on which to build a series -- no hero yet, but with plenty of room for growth. While he is not in immediate danger of supplanting Ramage or Bolitho in my favor, he certainly warrants a second look.

book review by
Tom Knapp

2 April 2016

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