The King’s Privateer, the fourth in the Alan Lewrie series by Dewey Lambdin, picks up with Alan’s return to London after bringing the HMS Shrike back from the West Indies (See The King’s Commission) and seeing her paid off and laid up in ordinary. The American Revolutionary War is over and Europe is momentarily at peace.
Lewrie is enjoying his life as a gentleman of leisure in the winter of 1783-84 but all of that changes rapidly.
Major spoilers to follow.
A night out with some disreputable friends leads to a chance encounter with the Chiswicks (see The French Admiral). While Gouvernour Chiswick is prospering as the manager of his uncle’s estate, Burgess is at loose ends. Lewrie offers to use his small influence to find Burgess suitable employment. To this end he pays a visit on retired Admiral Sir Onsley Matthews (see The King’s Coat). While he is fond of Burgess he has an ulterior motive in undertaking to help him, he wants an excuse to continue seeing Caroline Chiswick (see The French Admiral).
In the meantime, his private life is unraveling. He is dumped by one paramour, Dolly Fenton (see The King’s Commission), and begins a dalliance with his chambermaid, Abigail. He is discovered in flagrante delicto with Lady Delia Canter by her husband, Lord Roger (see The King’s Coat). When he returns to his room planning to flee London until Lord Roger loses interest in him, he is approached by a messenger from the Admiralty with the offer of employment as 4th lieutenant aboard a 80-gun ship of the line, Telesto.
As it turns out, the Telesto is going to sea as a private ship. Though staffed by Royal Navy officers and seamen, in civilian guise, the real management of the ship falls to two Foreign Office fuctionaries, Zachariah Twigg and Tom Wythy. He is also surprised to find Burgess Chiswick is traveling on Telesto to reach his new posting as an officer in the army of the British East India Company.
Telesto sails in February 1784 enroute to Calcutta.
The mission is to suppress piracy that has resulted in the disappearance of some of East India Company’s ships in unpatrolled areas of the East Indies. They suspect the French are positioning themselves for what all expect to be a new war and that they are behind the disappearances.
Burgess Chiswick was expecting to be made a lieutenant and much to his surprise he is made captain of light company of 19th Native Infantry. Alan is surprised to find the acting regimental commander is none other than his father, Sir Hugo Willoughby. Alan knew he had fled England ahead of his creditors but thought him to be in Portugal. Sir Hugo’s regiment will be involved in the operation and Alan begins a rapprochement with his father.
In keeping with the Telesto’s disguise as a British merchantman, they take on trade goods in Calcutta and proceed to Whampao, China. The trade is designed to finance the clandestine mission.
In Whampao, Lewrie and company believe they have discovered how the piracy takes place and Lewrie makes the acquaintance of what will be a recurring villain in the series, French Captain Guillame Choundas. While following French ashore, Tom Wythy is stabbed to death, the killer is caught and is revealed to be Choundas’s coxswain.
Telesto surprises and sinks a French merchantman, La Malouine, which is part of the piracy ring and determine the locus of the conspiracy lies in the Spratley Islands.
With the help of Sir Hugo’s regiment the pirates are suppressed though a terribly mutilated Choundas survives and is set free through the intervention of Spanish authorities.
When Lewrie returns home he finds the Admiralty is very pleased with his actions though the mission will not be publicized for fear of setting off a crisis. In a meeting with First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Lord Howe and Admiral Sir Samuel Hood we see Alan begin to develop interest of his own. He asks for one of the Telesto’s midshipmen to be made lieutenant and for his father to be made lieutenant colonel and commander of the 19th Native Infantry. He is given command of a converted bomb ketch destined for the Bahamas.