James M. Cain
‘Very well, sir; I must submit to superior force, I find. I must be content to form part of a merely belligerent expedition, hurrying past inestimable pearls, bent solely on destruction, neglecting all discovery’
A French agent has betrayed several naval plans, and in a personal attack on Stephen Maturin has told his wife that Stephen has been ‘flaunting a red-haired lady up and down the Mediterranean’. If Stephen’s marriage seems doomed to the breaker’s yard, the Surprise has been literally ordered there – fated to be broken up and her hand-picked crew dispersed. Jack Aubrey is devastated, but a reprieve is offered when the Surprise is ordered on a last mission – to intercept an American frigate harrying British whalers.
This was the book which was chosen as a basis for the successful film starring Russell Crowe. With the many dramatic events as the Surprise searches for the USS Norfolk around the Cape and all the way to the naturalist’s paradise, the Galapagos Islands, it makes a good choice. The tangled relationships aboard ship in the book are darker and more tragic than the film portrays. Against all Jack’s normal custom, there is a young and attractive woman aboard ship – and her relationship with an unlucky midshipman (stigmatised as a Jonah by the rest of the crew) will cause a black cloud of jealousy and despair to settle on the ship. Most dangerous of all is the fateful moment when Stephen falls from the stern-window – Jack immediately dives in to save his friend but, when they surface, the ship does not hear his cries and Stephen and Jack are left to float in the vast and lonely South Seas.
Read more about the life and work of Patrick O'Brian
In 1991, an article appeared in The New York Times entitled ‘An Author I’d Walk the Plank For’. Like millions of readers around the world, the writer, Richard Snow, had become addicted to Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series. Set against the sprawling canvas of the Napoleonic Wars, O’Brian’s naval adventure novels evoke this period in history like no others. Their success is down to the vim and vigour of O’Brian’s prose, his extraordinary eye for period detail and his ear for language. In Snow’s words: ‘O’Brian summoned up with casual omniscience the workaday magic of a vanished time.’
The partnership between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin is at the heart of Patrick O’Brian’s masterful series. Beyond the beautifully textured period setting and the thrilling skirmishes and naval battles (many based on real events), the popularity of the novels stems from these two engaging, intriguing protagonists, with Aubrey’s passionate nature providing a marvellous foil for Maturin’s more enigmatic character. Two centuries may separate us from them, but O’Brian creates an utterly compelling portrait of two men and a world at war.