REVIEW: Gentleman Captain by JD Davies
Dear Mr. Davies,
Forgive me for not getting to your novel “Gentleman Captain” until just recently even though it was published in the US last autumn. I’ve been a fan of historical naval books for years having started the Aubrey/Maturin series (I’ll finish it one of these days, I swear!) and checking into any romance book which features a naval hero. But, let me be honest, I’m getting a wee bit tired of All Napoleonic Wars, All the Time. So when I saw that your book is set during the Restoration, I was determined to read it. Okay, okay it took me a while but I’m all over Matthew Quinton and his thinning hair now.
It’s 1662 and King Charles II though restored to his throne still sits uneasily on it. As well, the country is slowly and painfully starting to work out how to meld the two sides of the recent bloody Civil War back together again. One area where this is quite evident is in the Royal Navy where young Matthew Quinton manages to lose his first command to an inept ship’s master, terrifically bad weather and his own ignorance of sea craft. Six months later King Charles gives Matthew a chance to redeem himself.
Matthew, who above all else wants a commission in the Horse Guards and who views time in the Navy mere filler, is to command the Jupiter which along with the larger ship Royal Martyr, under the command of a reformed Commonwealth man, is to sail around Cornwall and up to the west coast of Scotland where reports say that a large shipment of arms is to be landed for some people whose loyalties aren’t entirely clear. Charles wants the kibosh put on this as he has no intention of losing his throne and being forced into exile again.
Matthew arrives on the Jupiter backed by the King’s commission but still painfully ignorant of ships, the sea and much else about the Navy. Something which his new crew immediately picks up on. Matthew also has to deal with his new Lieutenant’s endless harping on and investigations into the death of the former captain of the ship – who was also his uncle, a death that more than a few are determined to prove was murder.
As the journey begins, Matthew starts to learn more about sailing and ships, more about the death of the man whose place he took and much more about Scottish politics and clan feuds than he ever dreamed existed. Can he survive the experience which is rapidly becoming far deadlier and more wide reaching than anyone in Whitehall ever had nightmares about?
From the opening line of Chapter 1 I knew I was going to like Matthew. He’s got that wry British sense of humor and sarcasm, he readily admits to his faults and failings, he loves his wife, he gives credit where it’s due and he turns out to be a better man then even he dreamed he could be.
The whole book is a history lesson of not only the Restoration and the Civil War but also of how the modern British Navy came into being. But it’s not boring! It’s not dry or droning. It’s relevant to the story and it’s fascinating to see the evolution of what I already knew a little about. It wasn’t quite “Rule, Britannia” just yet. It’s also presented so that landlubbers have a good chance of actually understanding it all. And as a bonus, I get Corryvrecken! I know Corryvrecken because I know “I Know Where I’m Going.” My goodness I’m getting exited. I hardly ever use this many exclamation points in a review.
One aspect – which I guess is one of the main ones in the book – that caught my interest is the fact that at this time, there were two such different styles of captains. The lower class tarpaulins who through talent and skill rose to prominence during the Commonwealth and the upper-class gentlemen who often didn’t know their nautical ass from their elbows. I also enjoyed reading about the variety in the crew of the Jupiter and especially about the men from Cornwall. I hope we’ll see more of them in the future.
The seeds of what is afoot are sprinkled throughout the narrative in such a way that individually, they remain rather nebulous but when the final piece is fitted into place the scales really do fall and reveal a cunning plot. The final sea battle is riveting even if the Jupiter’s salvation depends on a deus ex machina. It wasn’t a total surprise but it was an awfully big coincidence.
I had a feeling that Matthew would find his sea legs and change his mind about his future. But I hope that some of the questions left unanswered – chiefly what happened between the Dowager Countess of Ravensden and Glenrannoch – are cleared up. And you’ve promised us Pepys – I’ll hold you to that and look forward to it. And maybe Matthew will earn some prize money and repair the Abbey roof before it crashes down on them while they’re eating. B+