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My hunger for naval fiction has become more ravenous than ever, lately. I devoured C. S. Forester’s Hornblower novels. I inhaled Patrick O’Brian’s Aubreyiad, books that I count among my most cherished possessions and that I have begun re-reading in audio-book form. I am two-thirds of the way through Pope’s Lord Ramage novels. It won’t take me long to finish them all. So I sensed that, in the tradition of Britain’s Royal Navy, “not a moment must be lost.” I decided that it was time to find the next major series of naval novels to sail through. Guided in part by the advice of a knowledgeable second-hand bookseller, and in part by the recommendations listed in the foreparts of the Ramage books, I decided to give the Bolitho novels by Alexander Kent a try. It already runs to more than two dozen books, and it seems the author is still writing them, so I reckoned they would provide ample hours of reading pleasure.
After I read the first book, I realized that I need to know more about this remarkable author. My research on Kent turned up something really amazing. Judging by his Bolitho novels, Alexander Kent is an amazingly prolific author. But he doesn’t actually exist. Kent is, in fact, a pen name of author Douglas Reeman, who has published numerous other books under his own name. In addition to the Bolitho series, Reeman has written an equal number of novels based on World War II naval warfare, a five-book series on several generations of Royal Marines (the Blackwood Saga), and at least seven other novels of action, adventure, and war on the water. Wiki has a list of them. The author’s own website gives synopses, first-edition covers, and information on how to get hold of the current editions.
Between the two sites, you can find lists of the books in both publication and canon order. So I won’t waste space on that here. Here I only want to point out that the Bolitho series follows the career first of Richard Bolitho, then of his nephew Adam, as officers in the Royal Navy beginning before the American Revolution, and thus commanding a broader sweep of history than the Hornblower, Aubrey, or Ramage novels (which all begin round about 1800). Indeed, I seem to remember that Horatio Hornblower’s birthdate was July 4, 1776, which makes Richard Bolitho quite a bit senior to him and promises a series with plenty of room for sea actions and the changing fortunes of war.
Though Alexander Kent is really Douglas Reeman, it turns out there was a person by that name, a shipmate of the author’s who was killed during World War II, and whose name Reeman honors with the Bolitho series. As a naval veteran, Douglas Reeman brings detailed experience, as well as considerable historical research, to his art. As far as I have read so far, however, it seems Reeman cares just as much about the heart, the conscience, and the feelings of his hero, portraying him and the people around him with a richness of personality in all its shades and colors. Other fans of the series, since I told the world on Facebook that I was starting to read it, have told me how deeply they enjoyed this series, reading it over and over from start to finish, and swearing that it is better than all the other series I have named; one even rhapsodized about unforgettable characters whom I have yet to meet. I hope their endorsement tempts you as much as it tempts me!