Dudley Pope,
Ramage's Devil
(Martin Secker & Warburg, 1982; McBooks, 2002)

It comes as no surprise that war has broken out again between Britain and France. What starts Ramage's Devil off on an awkward footing is that our hero, Nicholas Ramage, is in France at the time, honeymooning with his new wife, Sarah (whom you may recall he met in the previous book). Now they're on the run, although Ramage carries in his head vital information about the strength of France's naval forces. And, too, the French noble, a royalist and friend to the Ramage family, has been taken by Bonaparte's forces and exiled to a small, sickness-ridden island off the coast of South America.

It's not a promising start to Ramage's exploits. He's ashore in an enemy nation with no obvious way to get home, much less elude the French forces that are looking for him. And his own ship, the Calypso, is back in England, where it was scheduled to be paid off -- that means his hand-picked and action-tested officers and crew would be scattered among other ships or, possibly, in new, land-bound occupations far from the sea.

There is a lot of naval action here, although not a single sea battle (despite the cover, which shows two ships blasting away at each other). There's a mutinied ship to capture, a French port to escape, a British rendezvous to make and, if possible, his own ship to recover. Then there's the possibly hopeless task of rescuing his French ally, who is on a French vessel with 50-some other royalists en route to the South Atlantic.

Ramage's actions in this book are more about guile than battlecraft, although there is some desperate hand-to-hand combat -- in the night, no less -- before the book is over.

Critically speaking, there are a few too many convenient and coincidental turns of the plot -- the whole matter with Captain Bullivant springs to mind as an obvious example, although not the only one by far -- and it feels as if author Dudley Pope is working a little too hard to keep Ramage's men together so that we, the readers, don't need to meet too many new characters. It does seem, too, like Pope is struggling to fill the pages here, as the story is needlessly interrupted at times -- with, for instance, a sudden, ill-timed tour of a ship's quarters, and a lengthy exchange between a couple of Marines that seems to have no further purpose than to show how daft, and possibly comical, one of them is.

Even so, the Ramage series remains among my favorites, so even a weaker volume in this series is as good as or better than some of the other stuff on the market. The next book in the series is already on my nightstand.

book review by
Tom Knapp

30 April 2016

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