Dudley Pope, Ramage & the Drumbeat
(Weiderfeld & Nicholson, 1967; McBooks, 2000)

It's a simple enough mission, transporting a pair of Italian dignitaries to Gibraltar. Even the fact that Lt. Nicholas Ramage, captain of the cutter Kathleen, is madly in love with one of them shouldn't interfere too much with the easy cruise. But when he stumbles upon a drifting and defenseless Spanish frigate, Ramage's sense of duty leaves him no choice but to capture it -- even though doing so is a direct violation of orders.

The capture is simple enough, but towing the large, disabled vessel makes Kathleen herself an easy target -- and all too soon, Ramage and his crew are captives themselves. But, resourceful as ever, Ramage manages to put his time in Spain to good use as a spy. Then, with priceless information in his grasp, he makes his way back to the British fleet -- and soon finds himself, once more in command of little Kathleen, sailing into battle against a massive Spanish armada on Feb. 14, 1797.

Historians will thrill at Dudley Pope's in-the-thick-of-it retelling of the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. And, while the actions of Kathleen and her crew aren't part of the official record, they certainly could help to explain the outcome.

Ramage & the Drumbeat is the second of Pope's 18-book series, and it does have flaws -- but the tale itself is so exciting, I feel highlighting them would be nitpicking. The one serious fault here is the ease with which Ramage obtains information; whenever he needs a bit of naval intelligence, he meets up with the very fisherman, gardener or what-not who will tell him everything he wants to know, freely and without suspicion. Ha!

None of it matters. When Valentine's Day dawns and the British fleet sails into battle, you will read one of the most extraordinary naval narratives yet published. Bless McBooks for bringing this series back to light!!

review by
Tom Knapp

29 May 2010

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