My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jack Aubrey is such a dunderhead. He really should not be allowed abroad on land without a keeper.
At sea, he is authoritative, knowledgable, decisive, charismatic, a man of action that other men delight in following. He is "Lucky Jack."
But on land, he is decidedly unlucky. He is "Dunderhead Jack," an easy mark for any scam artist.
A scam artist is just what he meets on his way home from his duties of protecting whalers off the South American coasts. This well-spoken, well-dressed gentlemen convinces Jack that he has inside information that peace is going to break out in just a few days and that certain investments in the City, made before the news becomes public, are bound to make the lucky investors a fortune. Jack, who is always only half a step ahead of bankruptcy and ruin, jumps at the chance to make his fortune. He never considers who the man is or why he might be giving him this information or if the information might have been planted by his enemies to bring him down.
It doesn't take long for everything to fall apart. Jack has only just made it home and his beloved Sophie has just returned from a trip north and they are reunited when the bailiffs show up to arrest him for manipulating the market, in effect, for insider trading. Clapped in prison and not allowed bail, it is up to his friends to try to extricate him from the mess.
His particular friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin, works tirelessly to achieve that extrication. He visits all the important people of influence who owe him favors to ask for their help in freeing Jack. But things look bleak. None of them seem to have sufficient influence to achieve what is needed. It seems certain that Jack will at least be fined and pilloried and possibly even sent to prison for an extended period. Worst of all, he could be "struck off" and lose his naval career. It is an ill omen that the judge in his case is a political creature who is bent on punishing Jack's father, the loudmouthed Radical Gen. Aubrey, through his son.
Stephen has his own worries as well. His beloved Diana has run away to Sweden with another man, because she believed, wrongly, that her husband had been unfaithful to her and had flaunted his red-headed "mistress" all around the Mediterranean. The enemies of Aubrey/Maturin strike again.
Meantime, Jack is unworried. He maintains an innocent trust in British justice, "the best system of justice in all the world." He believes that if the jury hears him tell his story, they will believe him and free him. Even when told that he will not be allowed to tell his story because of the rules of evidence, his faith is unshaken.
If Aubrey's faith in British justice is misplaced, his faith in his men, the men of the Surprise and in all the men he has served with in his long naval career is not misplaced. When he is at his lowest ebb and just about to founder in the shoals, they are his lifeboat, his shield.
This was a quick and easy read because it was all about the characters and the characters' relationships. It didn't have a lot of the nineteenth century naval jargon and descriptions of naval battles that often slow my reading of these books. It focused, in fact, on the main thing that I read the series for - the relationship between Aubrey and Maturin.
As the book ends, that relationship is at a turning point and Maturin, the spy, has just learned some very valuable information, the result of which will (perhaps) be revealed in the next book. O'Brian did have the knack for keeping his readers turning those pages - and those books.
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