Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hornblower and the Crisis

Hornblower and the Crisis
© 1967 CS Forester
174 pages

Hornblower and the Crisis is the last of CS Forester's Hornblower books, as Forester died in the midst of writing it. This book collects the first 130 pages of the intended novel, adds a portion from Forester's notes establishing how he intended to develop the book further and end it, and then tacks on two short stories. The first, "Hornblower's Temptation", is set during Hornblower's lieutenancy aboard the HMS Renoun, where he makes a potentially lucrative discovery when overseeing the execution of an Irish deserter-turned-insurrectionist. "The Last Encounter" takes place in 1848, where an elderly Hornblower receives a late-night visitor -- a man claiming to be the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

The death of Forester in the middle of the Crisis is truly a loss for his readers, for the book was shaping up to be one of the better additions to the series. Newly-minted Captain Hornblower is returning to England from his blockade duties as a passenger aboard the Princess, a small utility vessel, when the book begins. His former ship, the Hotspur, is still at sea under a new captain, but Hornblower has been ordered to return to Liverpool for new orders.  After a French brig harasses the lowly Princess, Hornblower urges his fellow passengers -- also royal officers -- to ambush Boney's boat. Although they are too few men to take the ship as a prize of war in total, Hornblower fights his way to the brig's command office and steals the French captain's orders. They are fixed with the seal of Emperor Bonaparte, and contain orders from the Corsican himself.  When Hornblower dutifully takes them to the Admiralty, they and he contrive a plan of espionage that will draw the French navy into a decisive battle -- the monumental battle of Trafalgar.

I tend to enjoy Forester's books more when they center on diplomatic intrigue, shore adventures, and espionage, so the plot of this naturally drew me in. Although the notes included are short, they do more than relate the rest of the plot.  The two short stories are both far shorter than those in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, and each was a treat. "The Temptation" shows Hornblower's humane side, one we don't often get to see in a series dominated by war, and "The Last Encounter" is both amusing and almost serves as an afternote to the Hornblower series:  1848 is a year beset by revolution, where rail lines and naval steam engines have brought modernity, supplanting Hornblower's old, familiar world.

Although I read this when I did for its setting (French Revolution and Napoleon), it more than made up for Hornblower and the Hotspur.  While the novel's opening chapters and the short stories are enjoyable in their own rights, I suspect newcomers to the series would enjoy a more complete work. Still, for Hornblower readers this is certainly worthy.

This is not my last Hornblower read: I still have Admiral Hornblower and the West Indies to read, and there's one Hornblower-related book I intend to read following that. It's ah....going to be a bit different.

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