V.A. Stuart,
Phillip Hazard #4: Hazard of Huntress
(Robert Hale, 1972; McBooks, 2004)

Hazard of Huntress, the fourth book in author V.A. Stuart's Phillip Hazard series, set during the Crimean War, is not a fast-paced book.

It begins with a lot of exposition, in the form of conversations. Our protagonist is not even mentioned until p. 36, and he doesn't appear until p. 42. Once Hazard makes his appearance, it's all about the action, right? Wrong. Even then, there's little but chatter until Hazard's new command, the steam-powered sloop of war Huntress, weighs anchor on p. 90. Once they're at sea -- there's more talking. The first real action doesn't occur until well after the 100-page mark.

The plot, such as it is, doesn't really captivate the reader, either. A small British fleet is sailing to Odessa under a flag of truce. Hazard is supposed to fix his anchor far enough away so he, technically, isn't covered by the truce, then sneak ashore to assess the city's defenses and stability in the wake of a previous British barrage. His biggest stumbling blocks are 1) he doesn't speak the language, 2) he's dressed like a British naval officer in hostile territory, 3) his first lieutenant is malicious and disobedient, 4) his brother, and sole companion on the mission, is downed by a bad case of food poisoning, and 5) Hazard is hit on the head with a rock.

None of that screams white-knuckled suspense, and it's certainly not an action-packed book. There's lots of talking, and a good bit of skulking. There's some mooning, too, since Hazard is hopelessly in love with a niece of the Tsar, and guess what? She's in Odessa.

Flaws aside, Hazard is a likable enough protagonist, and the book itself is extremely well researched, if you like that period in history. I find I enjoy Stuart's books, despite their weaknesses, and will continuing reading them -- although she's not in the same rank as Forester or O'Brian, Kent or Pope.

book review by
Tom Knapp

20 September 2014

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