cover image The Mauritius Command

The Mauritius Command

Patrick O'Brian. W. W. Norton & Company, $14.95 (348pp) ISBN 978-0-393-30762-7

This initiates the reissue (see H.M.S. Surprise above) of O'Brian's long-out-of-print novels, set in Napoleonic-era England, about the unlikely pair, Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. Aubrey is a strapping blond man of action; Maturin, his ship's surgeon and occasional intelligence agent to the king, is diminutive and somber. Aubrey is without a ship, uncomfortably surrounded by wife, babies and mother-in-law, when Maturin comes to visit. The good doctor has engineered a new mission for his friend, and they set off to take two small islands off the coast of Madagascar, thereby making the Indian Ocean safe for English commerce. O'Brian is a graceful writer, and the book is full of wonderful period details, such as the use of a sail to create a wading pool for non-swimmers in Aubrey's crew. Unfortunately, with Aubrey as commodore, too much of the action is seen from afar, as when batteries are taken on one of the islands. The book's peculiar narrative structure builds repeatedly towards anticipated climaxes that never happen. However, aficionados of C. S. Forester and Alexander Kent will delight in the almost excessive period nautical jargon. (May)