Book Review: “Ramage and the Freebooters” by Dudley Pope

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In the third of 18 Lord Ramage Novels, naval historian and sometime sailor Dudley Pope draws us back to the year 1797, where a young Royal Navy lieutenant named Nicholas Ramage has been given a brig to command. His immediate challenge is to get the ship out of the Spithead roads, given that the entire British fleet anchored there has mutinied. Ramage manages it through sheer nerve and force of character, then proceeds to make a fine fighting crew out of a shipload of mutineers.

But this is only the beginning. Next Ramage has to cure his ship’s surgeon of an all-but-terminal case of dipsomania (the drink, don’t you know); then he captures a French slave ship in a passage that vividly brings to life the 19th century controversy over slavery. And all that’s before they get to the West Indies, where Ramage will face the biggest challenge of his career so far.

Grenada: the southernmost of the Windward Islands that sweep north from Venezuela between the Atlantic and the balmy Caribbean. Its colonial capital, St. George, is a major port in the molasses trade. Merchant schooners carry this liquid treasure to Martinique for transshipment and eventual passage to England. But lately, something has been happening to many of these schooners. They leave St. George all right; but they never arrive at Martinique.

Two captains senior to Ramage, commanding bigger ships, have tried and failed to solve this mystery. Now it’s Ramage’s turn – not so much because the local Admiral thinks he will succeed, as because he would make a handy scapegoat. But Ramage isn’t as dumb as he looks (at least to the Admiral and his favorites). He’ll crack the uncrackable case, even if it means using a merchantman as bait, out-snobbing an uppity colonial governor, making friends with a soldier who hates sailors, falling in love with a blackmail victim, getting blood on his hands, doing battle with the forces of evil magic, and allowing himself to be captured by privateers and taken to their lair.

The final battle, fought in the close quarters of a hidden lagoon and involving an unconventional use of firepower, calls for enough daring, danger, and delicate sailing maneuvers to make the whole book worthwhile. When it ends, you may have forgotten how long it took to get there, because at every stage it has been a swift and eventful journey. And if you’ve got boats on the brain, as I do, the thought of 15 further novels in this series will make you very happy indeed.

Recommended Age: 12+