When we left Dewey Lambdin’s naval character Alan Lewrie in A King’s Trade he has just returned from his convoy mission to the Cape of Good Hope something of a minor celebrity due to his victory over a French frigate larger than HMS Proteus. While denied a knighthood because of the odor attached to his personal life, he was rewarded with a new command: HMS Savage, a 36-gun 18-pounder frigate and sent back to sea to get him out of sight.
Major spoilers follow.
Lewrie reports on board his new frigate and as he is preparing her for sea he receives news that he has been sentence to death, in absentia, in Jamaica for stealing slaves from the wealthy and odious Beauman family.
His legal case combined with his maritime celebrity has made him something of a cause célèbre among the reformist movement attempting to abolish slavery in British colonies. He finds they have procured a barrister for him. His work preparing Savage for sea, however, is interfered with by his having to spend time preparing his legal defense.
His former first lieutenant, Anthony Langlie, is now a commander of a brig and is engaged to Lewrie’s ward, Sophie de Maubeuge. Though the wedding is a tremendous success, Lewrie’s reconciliation with Caroline goes tragically awry with the arrival of another of the mysterious letters which in the past have detailed his philanderings. This letter, unfortunately for Lewrie, is false.
His éminence grise, Zachariah Twigg, resurfaces at the wedding with the news that the Beauman’s have arrived in London with their entourage, foiling Lewrie’s best hope of having charges dismissed. Lewrie must appear at a hearing to contest the verdict rendered in Jamaica. Twigg fears danger and they drive to London with an armed escort. Enroute they are ambushed by several highwaymen who seem to be hired assassins rather than robbers.
While at Twigg’s house, Lewrie asks him if he can find out who is writing the anonymous letters to Caroline. She has given him the latest one and he, in turn, gives it to Twigg. Twigg promises to set his network in motion to find the writer. Lewrie’s father and one of Lewrie’s school friends conspire to have the Beaumans harassed by rent-a-mobs.
Savage goes to sea and is assigned to the fleet blockading the Gironde River and the port of Bordeaux. He is not well received by his new commander and is assigned to the Inshore Squadron conducting the close blockade of the port where there is little chance of excitement or prize money. The Inshore Squadron, is commanded by Commodore Hugh Ayscough, Lewrie’s commander during his pre-war adventure in the Far East (The King’s Privateer) and the squadron includes several old acquaintances. Captain Thomas Charlton (Jester’s Fortune), Commander Hogue (The King’s Privateer, HMS Cockerel, A King’s Trade), and Commander James Kenyon (The King’s Coat, The Kings Commission, A King’s Trade).
Lewrie is given command of one flotilla which is his first opportunity to command multiple ships. The flotilla is currently commanded by Commander Kenyon. Thus far its actions have been fairly passive and the ships do nothing beyond interrogate French fishermen for information and buy fresh food from them. True to form, he decides that the way the group has been operating has been too cautious and sets about to shake things up.
Sadly, Kenyon has deteriorated greatly since he and Lewrie served together in the West Indies. He bristles at being under the authority of his former midshipman and the management of his ship seems near scandalous.
Lewrie attempts to find a secluded spot where his ships can take on wood and water without being interfered with. He inquires of two French fishing boat captains who have been a regular source of information and the same location is recommended by each. When Savage visits the location the sailors have a skirmish with French troops leading Lewrie to believe that he has been betrayed.
Lewrie has decided that he wishes to storm the two forts, one operational and one under construction, guarding the Gironde River. To set up this operation he has Kenyon’s ship feign a watering expedition where Lewrie’s skirmish occurred. They find the enemy there in large numbers and some of Kenyon’s sailors are killed. This effectively destroys any possibility Kenyon and Lewrie might have had of working together. Kenyon writes a letter of complaint to Commodore Ayscough, and Lewrie hints to Ayscough what may be happening on Kenyon’s ship.
An opportunity for action presents itself based on information received from the two French fishing boat captains but Lewrie realizes that one or the other of his informants is lying. Unless he is able to decide who is truthful he will not be able to proceed with the plan. A chance incident allows him to determine who to believe.
During the planning briefing for the mission the final rupture occurs in Lewrie’s relationship with Kenyon and the information one of Kenyon’s officers provides to Lewrie is sufficient to destroy Kenyon if forwarded to his commander.
All goes according to plan and the two forts are demolished with minor losses to the attackers and two minor prizes taken. Kenyon is killed under questionable circumstances putting a pall over what should have been a victory celebration.
Lewrie is called home by his impending court date and the Admiralty decides to leave relieve him of command of Savage and give it to another captain. Lewrie is on half-pay for the first time in seven years.