Book Review: “Ramage’s Signal” by Dudley Pope

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In the eleventh of the Lord Ramage Novels, Capt. Nicholas Ramage continues his four-month Mediterranean cruise (begun in Book 10) with splendidly open-ended instructions to raise Old Harry with enemy shipping. He is well-equipped to do it. Besides being a clever tactician, blessed with a gift for seamanship and an aura of command, Ramage happens to command the frigate Calypso, so recently captured from the French that she retains the unmistakable rigging, paintwork, and armament of the French navy. And she has one of the top fighting crews in His Britannic Majesty’s navy, from elderly ship’s master Southwick (a prime navigator) to teenaged midshipman Paolo Orsini, a nephew of the Italian marchesa who is all but engaged to Ramage. His first lieutenant has passed up opportunities for promotion in order to keep sailing with him; his junior lieutenant, a flute-playing youth nicknamed “Blower Martin,” was all but born sailing and shows every promise of becoming a great naval commander himself, if he doesn’t get killed first.

And now it’s about to get a lot easier. For Ramage has decided to capture a semaphore station on the coast of France, replacing the signalmen with members of his own crew, in order to gather information about enemy shipping and, ultimately, to disrupt communications from Toulon to Barcelona. In spite of a few surprises from the weather and from enemy forces, they manage this nicely. Then their work is simply a matter of luring a whole convoy of merchantmen into a trap across a wide expanse of sea, maintaining all the while the charade of being their French escort; defending them against a crew of ruthless Algerine pirates; capturing and burning them without letting any ships get away and ruin their disguise; and finally, getting their prizes to Gibraltar without letting the ever-present Franch and their allies recapture them.

Remarkably, the exciting final chapter plays out in Ramage’s absence, while other business detains him elsewhere. All in all it’s a delightful romp, full of familiar, friendly faces, amazing ruses, roaring guns, creeping suspense, and all manner of good-humored fun. As I write this, I have only one additional Lord Ramage novel in my possession (Book 12, Ramage and the Renegades), but even if I can’t afford to buy the six that follow it, I’m not worried. I’ve got a shiny new library card, and I’ve already put a reserve on Book 13!

Recommended Age: 12+