Pope, Dudley. The Ramage Touch.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 1979.

As any reader of this series knows by now, Capt. Lord Nicholas Ramage makes a point, whenever possible, of using the opportunities and tools that come to hand in his continuing struggle against the French navy under Bonaparte. He does it in innovative ways, usually catching the enemy (and often his own people) by surprise. He also hates to lose men unnecessarily, so any inventive scheme that works to that end is also welcome. And his success is shown by his position as one of the youngest post captains on the Navy List.

A couple of books ago, Ramage captured a French frigate, undamaged and recently provisioned, which allowed him to pass himself off as an enemy vessel — and to essentially capture the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao. Now the Admiralty has sent him off on a three-month cruise in the Mediterranean to create havoc and disrupt French operations in any way he can. The French lines of the Calypso, the French-pattern suit of sails, and a recently captured French signal book will allow him to work practically undercover. And almost the first contact he makes, off the coast of Tuscany, is with a pair of bomb ketches — small, converted merchantmen, each slightly redesigned and re-outfitted to carry two ten-inch mortars. With a charge of up to eight or ten pounds of powder, such a weapon could hurl an explosive shell weighing nearly a hundred pounds for up to a mile, in a parabolic arc ideal for plunging fire behind walls and over hills. The ketches — which Ramage, naturally, is able to grab without firing a shot — are headed for Crete in company with a couple of frigates, where they are to join with other naval elements in some kind of fleet. But where the highly secret operation is aimed, Ramage has no idea. Egypt, perhaps, where Bonaparte had already failed a couple of years before? Being fluent in Italian and French, he slips ashore to seek intelligence among the troops gathering to board the awaited frigates, but things don’t go well. Not to worry, however. And those mortars are going to come in very useful. It’s not a bad yarn, though one gets the impression that the author had only recently studied up on bomb ketches and wanted to regurgitate everything he had learned. The crew spends a lot of time explaining all the technology and specifications to each other for the benefit of the reader, which is always an awkward device. There’s also a good deal of other padding in order to bring the book up to respectable length. The other main problem is that, since this is an historical novel and not alternate history, the author can’t simply rewrite the major events of the war to suit his plot — which requires that he basically throw away the point of all Ramage’s activities at the end of the story. Anyway, since it’s obvious the cruise is going to be continued in the next volume, his editor should have suggested that Pope trim some of the fat and combine two or three sub-adventures into a single book.

Published in: on 22 December 2010 at 8:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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