Pope, Dudley. Ramage’s Signal.

NY: Walker, 1980.

This is the 11th episode in the adventures of Lord Nicholas Ramage, one of the youngest post captains on the Royal Navy list and possessed of an increasingly fearful reputation among French seamen, and it’s a considerable improvement over the past couple of yarns. There’s a tendency for an author to become bored or simply to lose his grip a bit as a series goes on, but perhaps Pope has snapped out of his growing malaise.

This one picks up within hours of where the previous one left off, with Ramage holding the sort of Admiralty orders that would delight any frigate captain — to enter the Mediterranean with his French-built ship on a three-month cruise and play merry hell with the enemy any way he can. This time, the inspection from sea of one of the coastal semaphore stations set up by the French navy between their headquarters at Toulon and the principal Spanish naval base at Cartagena suggests to him an interesting way of disrupting enemy communications. But when he takes a party ashore to destroy the installation, he reads the signals log and discovers that a French convoy is awaiting its escort at the western end of the Med. Since Ramage’s Calypso began life as a French frigate, maybe he could play Pied Piper and provide such an escort himself. Well, the reader soon understands where all this is headed and knows the enemy isn’t going to enjoy the joke. Moreover, Ramage pulls it all off with hardly a shot being fired, which suits him fine. Pope is one of those authors who always likes to show off his specialized knowledge to his readers, and there’s a fair amount of that, but it’s a good story nonetheless. Ramage also has an unusually close relationship with his officers and men — especially the half-dozen who have been with him since the series began — and while the interplay is sometimes just a little too cheery to be believable, it makes for a multisided narrative. This isn’t Patrick O’Brian but it’s a lot of fun.

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