Dudley Pope,
Ramage & the Renegades
(Martin Secker & Warburg, 1981; McBooks, 2001)

Peace has broken out between England and France, and while no one -- least of all Captain Nicholas Ramage of His Majesty's Ship Calypso, believes it will last, the treaty has idled a large portion of the British fleet.

Not so Ramage and his men, however. They are ordered to proceed with all haste to a remote island, some 650 miles off the coast of Brazil, and claim it for England. Ilha da Trinidade has not been claimed by the terms of the new peace, and England thinks the tiny island will serve nicely as a watering and provisioning station for its ships. The object, of course, is to beat France, Spain and Portugal to the punch.

What might otherwise be a routine race across the Atlantic, followed by an even more dull period spent surveying the land and sounding the water, turns exciting when the Calypso encounters a band of privateers -- who, with the end of formal hostilities, have turned pirate -- using the island as a base of operations and a prison for hostages. Freeing the small fleet of captured ships in the harbor there is the least of Ramage's worries when the leader of the renegade band vows to slaughter several dozen men, women and children if the British ship makes any effort to rescue them.

It's another good chapter in the Ramage series by Dudley Pope. If there's one weakness, it's the author's handling of Ramage's romantic life; he has, since the first book in the series, had an ongoing affair with Giana, a deposed Italian marchesa whom he rescued from French troops. Their romance has been a pivotal part of the series, but Pope, intentionally or not, wrote himself into a corner because of the realities of the time. Given their respective positions in life -- and their contending religions -- they can never marry, so Pope apparently decided here it was time to write Giana out of the saga. Doing so is longwinded and repetitive, with much use of the phrase noblesse oblige and Ramage's sighing acknowledgements, over and over again, that he has grown to love Giana as a favorite sister rather than a future bride. OK, Nick, we get it!!

Of course, he gets all that out of the way just in time to meet ... well, why spoil the surprise?

That criticism aside, Ramage & the Renegades is a strong tale that finds thrilling action despite a bad -- and temporary -- peace.

book review by
Tom Knapp

26 March 2016

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