Signal–Close Action! by Alexander Kent: a review

Not a review, really; just a few comments.

It’s 1798, and Richard Bolitho is Commodore commanding a small squadron in the Mediterranean Sea, tasked with figuring out what the French fleet is up to and making recommendations. The squadron consists of three 74s, a frigate, and a sloop; most are commanded by folks we’ve encountered in earlier books. Thomas Herrick’s the flag captain, George Probyn and Charles Farquhar command the other line-of-battle ships, and Francis Inch has the sloop. All in all the assignment’s a frustrating experience; while they know there’s an enemy fleet in the Med, they can’t pin down its location. (I’m leaving out a lot of detail, here, as the story’s largely about personality conflicts between the characters I’ve just mentioned.)

The alert reader will have recognized this plot is a small-scale version of Horatio Nelson’s 1798; indeed, Bolitho’s well aware of Nelson’s efforts, but circumstances–not to mention the frustration of an apparently-failed search effort–prevent the two from actually meeting. Francis Inch manages to ferry messages between the fleets, to his delight, but they’re inconsequential.

Bolitho eventually manages to communicate his belief (not quite knowledge) that the French fleet is at Aboukir Bay, so Nel can chase Admiral Brueys (and Napoleon) down and win the Battle of the Nile. Bolitho’s ships have an encounter with the French just before the main battle and are therefor too damaged to actively participate in the victory.

Incidentally, this is the novel where Herrick’s wife-to-be, Dulcie, first appears.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.