A Fine Retribution is Dewey Lambdin’s twenty-fourth historical naval adventure featuring Captain Alan Lewrie. The intrepid captain is now forty-six, knighted, and fresh from a major victory against the French. Nevertheless, the Admiralty has taken away his damaged ship and is making him wait for a new commission, and he suspects jealous enemies are working behind the scenes to keep him on shore.
Since his naval future is uncertain and he’s flush with prize money, Lewrie buys a London house and becomes involved in domestic issues. He also falls in love with a “fetching” artist, Jessica, almost twenty years his junior. Though a clergyman’s daughter, she is liberated in many ways and ahead of her time in her independence of spirit. She’s not liberated enough to become another in Lewrie’s line of mistresses, however, so Lewrie marries her, seemingly ready to settle into blissful retirement.
Such groundwork takes up the first half of this naval adventure and proves Lambdin—a University of Tennessee graduate and former Memphis resident who now lives in Franklin—to be a master of social history. The author has clearly steeped himself in the complex customs, fashions, and class structure of London during the early years of the nineteenth century. The book introduces Captain Lewries’s real estate agent, his interior decorator, and the construction and layout of his house, which features front and back staircases, many fireplaces, servants’ quarters, and “necessary closets.” Instead of fighting the French, Lewrie is forced to get along with the antagonistic daughter of his first marriage, his grumpy father, and the servants and staff of his new landside domesticity. The London social scene emerges in all its intimate details—smells, sights, and sounds—and all of it embeds us in a life that’s very different from the customary shipboard environment of a Lambdin historical novel.
Finally, however, it’s back to sea as the Admiralty charges Lewrie to plan a hybrid army-navy raid to harass French and allied forces in the Mediterranean. When his plan is accepted, he’s given command of a flagship to lead three troop transports through Gibraltar to Malta and Sicily. He is torn, loathe to leave his new wife, but he does love the adventure of his life at sea: “Do forgive me, Jessica, but I want to do this, even if it means bein’ apart from you. It’d be so sweet to stay ashore with you, but this is what I do, what I’m good at, and so long as there’s a war, it’s what I have to do!”
Once his protagonist is back on board, Lambdin reveals again his intimate familiarity with all things naval. Some of it is so term-rich that obsessive word readers might appreciate a glossary. None of this naval virtuosity impedes the flow of the story, however, which runs inexorably through challenge after challenge: egotistical army officers and the resistant aristocratic superiors chief among them. While there is plenty of tension and uncertainty, Lewrie’s resourcefulness and pluck under pressure will surely lead to victory once again. But his return to a hero’s reception and a passionate reunion with Jessica will have to wait for Lambdin’s next installment.
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.