Stockwin, Julian. Invasion.

Ithaca, NY: McBooks, 2009.

It’s early in 1805 and Commander Thomas Kydd, now a seasoned commanding officer under fire, has regained his job and his ship in this tenth installment in the series (roughly the halfway point, from what the author says), and is sent to join Admiral Keith’s squadron in the Downs off the southeast corner of Britain. Napoleon is busily preparing his invasion forces and the Downs Squadron — whose ships are mostly too old or too small — is doing its best to disrupt French activities. The set-piece engagement in the first part of the book is a very nicely done large-canvas portrait of the Royal Navy coming down on an enormous fleet of invasion barges filled with troops and their guardian warships as they move down the coast to a rendezvous at Boulogne.

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Published in: on 28 February 2010 at 10:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Willis, Sam. Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare.

Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2008.

My background is entirely land-based. I’ve never served in the Navy, nor even sailed a boat, with the exception of a few months in college trying to learn how not to capsize a Sunfish. Nevertheless, ever since discovering in junior high my father’s collection of Hornblower novels, I’ve been a dedicated fan of Napoleonic-era sea stories. I’ve read all of C. S. Forester several times, all of O’Brian at least twice, all of Marryat, all of Pope, all of Lambdin, all of Stockwin, . . . all the fictional offerings of any halfway competent storyteller during the past fifty years about the exploits of the Royal Navy in the Age of Sail.

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Published in: on 26 February 2010 at 9:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hunt, Geoff. The Marine Art of Geoff Hunt: Master Painter of the Naval World of Nelson and Patrick O’Brian.

Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport museum, 2004.

I am in no way an artist, but I know what I like: Representational art. You can keep your Rembrandt and your Picasso — I’ll stick with Charles Russell and the Wyeths and others like them. In fact, I generally prefer illustration to “fine art” and that’s where Hunt got his start, laboring in London art agencies, designing packaging and advertising campaigns, and finally moving into book covers. He has become most famous as the creator of all the cover art that graces Patrick O’Brian’s now-classic series of sea novels about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, but he’s also responsible for the covers of the more recent series by Julian Stockwin.

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Published in: on 23 February 2010 at 7:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Stockwin, Julian. The Privateer’s Revenge.

Ithaca, NY: McBooks Press, 2008.

In this ninth book in the series, Commander Thomas Kydd, once a pressed man, then a warrant officer, and most recently captain of a sloop-of-war in British home waters, has been brought to desperate despondency by the sudden and tragic death of his fiancée. Unfortunately, Kydd has also made a bitter enemy of his port admiral by spurning his daughter in favor of a country girl. The admiral gets rid of him by sending him off to the Channel Islands — the closest thing to exile he can devise.

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Published in: on 21 February 2010 at 9:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Billingham, Mark. The Burning Girl.

NY: Morrow, 2004.

This is the fourth novel featuring homicide specialist Tom Thorne of London’s Metropolitan Police Service (no longer a “Force” to his immense irritation), and it’s rather different from the ones that came before it, which focused on serial killers, acting alone — or, in one case, as a pair. This time the subject is organized crime, operating in a side of the city the American tourists never see. Years before, Alison Kelly, the fourteen-year-old daughter of an Irish crime boss, was targeted for assassination by being doused with lighter fluid and set alight. The hit man, however, got the wrong girl and the target’s best friend was terribly disfigured and later committed suicide.

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Published in: on 20 February 2010 at 10:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gardiner, Robert. Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars.

Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000.

A frigate during the “age of fighting sail” is roughly the 18th and early 19th century equivalent of the modern naval destroyer, the ideal command in the minds of most zealous captains, then and now — small enough not to be expected to stand in the line of battle, large enough to be capable of formidable and dashing independent service. And that meant one-on-one actions against the enemy and the prospect of prize money. Unfortunately for modern naval historians and fans of Patrick O’Brian and C. S. Forester, no standard-size frigates of the Napoleonic period have survived, only ships of the line like Victory.

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Published in: on 15 February 2010 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Billingham, Mark. Lazybones.

NY: Morrow, 2003.

According to the flap-copy, the author of these fascinating police procedurals is a stand-up comic in his other life. Sure couldn’t prove it by reading the books. DI Tom Thorne is one of the best homicide detectives in London, even when he’s kicking himself for screwing up an investigation. And he’s becoming something of an expert on serial killers, whether he likes it or not. This time, the victim of a particular vicious murder in a seedy hotel room is a convicted rapist recently released from prison, so it’s difficult for the media or the police — even Thorne — to work up much outrage.

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Published in: on 13 February 2010 at 8:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Connelly, Michael. Trunk Music.

Boston: Little, Boston, 1997.

After the two previous books in this series about LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch, which were largely about Bosch himself and how he learns to deal with his past, this one is much more of a straight murder mystery procedural. It begins with Harry and his two partners opening the investigation on a sleezeball straight-to-video movie producer who is found shot in the trunk of his Rolls Royce in a clearing overlooking the Hollywood Bowl. (more…)

Published in: on 11 February 2010 at 8:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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Schwieger, Dirk. Moresukine: Uploaded Weekly from Tokyo.

NY: NBM Publishing, 2008.

In 2006, the author, a German translator and artist working in English, was living in Tokyo. As a sort of social experiment, he put out a call for readers of his online comics to suggest places he ought to go in the city and people he ought to see and activities he ought to experience. He undertook to faithfully execute these commissions regardless of his own preferences and to report the results graphically. A very interesting idea —

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Published in: on 9 February 2010 at 7:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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Pratchett, Terry. Unseen Academicals.

NY: HarperCollins, 2009.

Terry Pratchett has pretty much ceased to be merely one of the most bestselling authors in English — ever — and has evolved into practically a force of Nature. (And it’s Sir Terry now, Her Majesty’s government having finally woken up to the inevitable and given him his gong.) The jacket copy and the reviews will tell you that his latest novel is “about” this and that and the other, but those are superficialities. Pratchett’s books are always about people. The author himself is a model of tolerant humanity and the protagonists in his books, with all their foibles and mistakes, are the sort of people one could wish inhabited in larger numbers what we are pleased to regard as the “real world.”

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Published in: on 8 February 2010 at 6:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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