Friday, June 08, 2018

Forgotten Books: Richard Bolitho, Midshipman - Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)

I like to read a good sea-going adventure novel now and then, even though I’m about as much of a landlubber as you’ll ever find. Boats and I do not mix. Similarly, I like aviation fiction, too, even though I’ve been in a plane twice in my life, hated it, and will never go up again if I can avoid it. But to get back to the sea, I recently read RICHARD BOLITHO, MIDSHIPMAN, the first novel (chronologically, not publication order) in a long-running series that was written by Douglas Reeman under the pseudonym Alexander Kent. I’ve seen these books around for years but have never tried one until now. Based on my enjoyment of this one, I’ll be reading more.

This novel is set in 1772, as sixteen-year-old Richard Bolitho is about to set sail as a midshipman (not exactly an officer, but a higher rank than common sailor) on His Majesty’s ship Gorgon, a huge vessel that carries 74 cannon. Despite his young age, Bolitho is an experienced midshipman, having gone off to sea when he was twelve because that’s what the males in his family do. His grandfather was an admiral and his father was a ship’s captain, and great things are expected of him as well. The Gorgon is going to patrol off the east coast of Africa and search for pirates who have been plaguing shipping in the area.

It comes as no surprise that Bolitho and the Gorgon encounter those pirates, but before they do, Reeman provides a vivid and interesting look at life aboard ship during this era. Bolitho makes both friends and enemies and proves to be a likable protagonist. I enjoyed this part of the book, but the pace gets a welcome kick in the pants when the Gorgon comes across an abandoned ship that’s been looted by the pirates they’re after. This leads them on the corsairs’ stronghold, an old castle on the African coast.

There are good action scenes on both land and sea with plenty of hacking and slashing, and you know I always like a good swordfight. Reeman leaves the door open at the end for a sequel, and I’m eager to read it. Best of all for my tastes, RICHARD BOLITHO, MIDSHIPMAN is no bloated, overlong historical epic. It’s a nice, brisk action yarn that’s probably not much more than 50,000 words. If the other books hold to this pattern, I’ll definitely continue with the series.


George said...

As a kid back in the 1960s, I read C. S. Forester's famous HORNBLOWER series. Like you, I'm a landlubber but I enjoy sea stories like this. I've read Douglas Reeman's novels and his "Alexander Kent" adventures. I'm also a fan of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey–Maturin series .

C. Caz said...

Of course, many great sea pb tales published back then.... I guess you missed the "Fighting Sails" subject of Pulpdom a few months ago?

Tom said...

Did it get bogged down in nautical terms and minutiae?

Rick Robinson said...

I remember reading this and liking it a lot. At the time, several years ago, I planned to continue on, then just forgot. Now I want to find the next book and get reading!

Hedgeguard said...

I read the first 3 or 4 Bolitho novels when they were first published back in the 70s and enjoyed them a great deal. For some reason, I lost track of the series after that and only recently looked it up to discover there are (I believe) 30 novels now.