S. Thomas Russell,
Until the Sea Shall Give Up Her Dead
(Putnam, 2014)

Now on the fourth volume of his Charles Hayden saga, S. Thomas Russell has proved himself to be among the top tier of contemporary novelists following on the heels of Forester, O'Brian, Kent and Pope. Hayden is a competent and capable commander, whose command of the ship Themis has marked him as a man to watch in His Majesty's Royal Navy.

Now assigned to duties in the Caribbean, Hayden has many unexpected problems to deal with, from a pair of Spanish castaways to a slave ship in peril. With him are some familiar faces, such as the Marine lieutenant Hawthorne, who serves Hayden in much the same way that Maturin served Aubrey in the O'Brian novels, and the midshipman Wickham, who shows promise as a budding young officer.

Russell's command of language is excellent, at times almost poetic. His characters are interesting and well rounded, although some could use further development. His plotting, too, seems to need a sharper focus; Russell in this novel dips his quill into several likely subplots, including the moral conundrum of the offensive yet entirely legal slave ship, the castaways and their various secrets, a French spy, French privateers and a vainglorious British captain whose bravery exceeds his common sense. There is a romance, too, which seems hurried and unnecessary; far from the mixed emotions and eventual heartbreak of his previous relationship in England, this one seems rushed and altogether extraneous to the rest of the tale.

There are weaknesses here, yes, but overall I found myself thoroughly enjoying this novel. Hayden is an engaging captain, and Russell's grasp of nautical adventures will keep readers turning pages to the very end.

book review by
Tom Knapp

25 October 2014

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