Through a series of twenty naval adventures, Franklin novelist Dewey Lambdin has firmly established the career of Captain Sir Alan Lewrie, Baronet. Sir Alan’s adventures provide a wonderful brush with which to paint pictures of life in the Royal Navy during these history-rich years of revolution, diplomacy, and intrigue. The pictures include broad strokes of domestic politics and international relations, as well as intimate details of how a ship, the sailing master, and a chamber pot might smell. Novels like The King’s Marauder, Lambdin’s newest series installment, are the best way for contemporary readers to acquire a feel for an age so foreign to them.
When last seen, Sir Alan had suffered a serious leg wound, and this book takes nine chapters and several months to restore him to his accustomed vigor. As he heals, he must also contend with his late wife’s unsympathetic relations, his snippy fifteen-year-old daughter, and his father, “the old Bastard.” Once healed, Lewrie wants another commission and lobbies the admiralty for months. He finally succeeds because the captain and first officer of what becomes his ship have shot each other in a duel.
The new ship is not a nimble frigate but a fifty-gun, two-decker warship, clumsy and slow. Captain Lewrie’s inherited crew is fractious, and his orders are merely to provide protection to a Gibraltar-bound convoy. Since the French and Spanish navies have been largely destroyed at Trafalgar, opportunities for glorious battle appear few. Naturally, however, Sir Alan finds a workaround.
The best parts of this book—and indeed of the whole series—are the meticulously rendered historical details and language. Captain Lewrie’s cabin steward brings him a cup of coffee with “a plain white china creampot filled with a few fresh squirts from the nanny goat up forward in the manger,” for example, and “some sugar from the cone kept in Lewrie’s locking caddy.” Lambdin writes the dialogue passages phonetically to impart verisimilitude, and he sometimes finds ways in the narrative to explain the larger historical significance of what’s going on but never to the point of awkward intrusion.
Captain Lewrie is a likable sort. His language is sailor-like, to be sure, and he can be hot-tempered. But he normally keeps his ego in check, avoids situations where he might be expected to put on airs, and tends toward democratic leadership insofar as possible for a captain. He deals fairly and sensitively with subordinates and superiors. In short, the good captain leads well and manages an efficient fighting machine. Can Dewey Lambdin maintain Sir Alan’s humanity and zest for adventure as he ages? We’re betting on it.
Ralph Bowden, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, has worked as an electrical engineer, history professor, home builder, alternative-energy consultant, and technical writer. A former resident of both Knoxville and Chattanooga, he lives in Cookeville.