Jester’s Fortune picks up the career of Dewey Lambdin’s character, Alan Lewrie, where A King’s Commander ended.
It is 1796 and Admiral Sir John Jervis has just succeeded Admiral Sir William Hotham to command of the Mediterranean theater. A previous obscure Corsican artilleryman is beating the unbeatable Austrians like a rented mule and the various Italian states are falling like dominoes.
Jervis decides to send a small squadron into the Adriatic to harry French commerce and to demonstrate support to both Venice and Austria.
Major spoilers to follow.
Lewrie and HMS Jester are assigned by Admiral Sir John Jervis to be part of a four ship squadron assigned to show the flag in the Adriatic. The Italian theater is crumbling fast under the energetic blows wielded against the Austrians by Napoleon Bonaparte and the fast moving French army.
The squadron is led by a cautions but dedicated officer, Captain Thomas Charlton, and includes a politically connected commander junior to Lewrie, Lieutenant William Fillebrowne, as well as Lewrie’s old friend from the Bahanas (see The Gun Ketch) Captain Benjamin Rodgers.
Charlton is leery of Alan because of his reputation and because of the allegations of shelling civilians made against him by the French when he was a part of Nelson’s squadron. Lewrie is given the job of contacting Lieutenant Fillebrowne and then leading him to a rendezvous with Charlton and Rodgers. Lewrie develops a dislike for Fillebrowne which seems to be reciprocated.
Shortly after the rendezvous the squadron runs into a large French frigate escorting two merchantmen. Lewrie works in concert with Fillebrowne to cripple the frigate enabling it to be captured along with the merchantmen. He gains an appreciation for Fillebrowne’s aggressiveness and skill while still disliking him.
While attending a diplomatic party in Venice, Lewrie runs into two old acquaintances. Lord Peter Rushton and his sidekick Clotworthy Chute (see The King’s Privateer). He also meets a wealthy British manufacturer, Sir Malcolm Shockley who is now married to Alan’s former love interest, the former Lucy Beauman (see The King’s Coat and The King’s Commission). While Rushton and Chute are up their old game of defrauding the gullible, Lucy has shed her demur character and is actively pursuing a series of affairs. One of these, Alan discovers, is with Lieutenant Fillebrowne.
Captain Charlton develops a scheme to enlist Serbian pirates as a way of shutting down French commerce in the Adriatic. Lewrie demurs but is forced to acquiesce. His disagreement with Charlton creates bad blood between him and Rodgers who is still smarting from a situation Lewrie got him into in the Bahamas.
The make contact with the pirates and enlist their aid. The leader, Ratko Petracic, holds an ambition to reestablish Serbian and drive out the Turks. His second-in-command, Dragan Mlavic, holds no such illusions and is simply interested in plunder. As part of the deal, the pirates are supposed to hold in safekeeping any captives they take.
The operation successfully dries up valuable shipping coming into the Adriatic and reduces prizes to less valuable ships carrying naval stores. Also, the Venetians are beginning to hedge their bets and are allowing French shipping refuge in their ports.
As the pirates become disenchanted with the arrangement, Lewrie embarks on an imaginative strategy to scare off French shipping without violating the neutrality of Venetian ports.
Charlton concludes that Lewrie was right and that allying themselves with the pirates is bound to result in a scandal when it is inevitably exposed. Lewrie talks Petracic into launching a war against the Turks under his own banner. He tells Lewrie to make contact with Mlavic and give him instructions to join in the war.
When Lewrie finds Mlavic he declines the order. He invites Lewrie ashore where Lewrie discovers he has actually been killing captives rather than safeguarding them. The evening turns into an orgy of rape and murder with Lewrie and his shore party as helpless bystanders. He is appealed to by a woman who is the widow of a British merchant and is being auctioned by Mlavic. Lewrie participates in the auction. Eventually his first lieutenant decides something is amiss and intervenes.
The pirates are killed and the captives released. Charlton takes the blame for the fiasco even though he could easily avoid telling Jervis about it and he commends Lewrie on his actions.
The squadron receives orders to evacuate British citizens from Venice and Lewrie ends up hosting his friends and Sir Malcolm and Lady Lucy Shockley. Lucy insinuates that she will write a letter to Caroline exposing the liaison she has divined between Alan and the widow he rescued. He tells her of stumbling upon her assignation in Venice with Fillebrowne. They part with her insistence that they have unfinished business.