cover image The Thirteen Gun Salute

The Thirteen Gun Salute

Patrick O'Brian. W. W. Norton & Company, $24 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-393-02974-1

The 18th in O'Brian's Jack Aubrey series will please current fans and likely make new ones. Newly rich Aubrey ( The Letter of Marque ), again a Royal Navy captain and even a ``rotten-borough'' M.P., is given command of the frigate Diane with orders to bring king's envoy Fox to conclude a treaty with the sultan of Borneo before Napoleon does. Aboard is Jack's friend Dr. Maturin, English secret agent and avid naturalist. After a placid trip (via Antarctica) and some stormy local politics (involving two English traitors and the sultan's catamite) the treaty is made. Fox's growing arrogance breeds ill will and when homeward-bound Diane hits a reef Jack gladly sends the envoy ahead in a cutter. O'Brian's style has been compared with Jane Austen's: even the dinners (in country house, London, ship's mess, sultan's palace, Buddhist monastery) are distinguished wittily. Perhaps the most charming segment is Maturin's idyllic stay in a remote valley, where he blissfully encounters and studies a variety of tame exotic beasts. (May)