The Scent of Betrayal
David Donachie
Macmillan, London, 1996

Review by Peter Cannon

There have been many imitators of C. S. Forester over the years. His yarns of wooden sailing ships and the men who fought them have been popular, and as a result often imitated. After a while, in a crowded field, how do you distinguish yourself from the others -- how do you avoid being simply another Hornblower imitation. David Donachie's solution is to wrap his sea story around a mystery. In the first book in the series the privateers Harry and James Ludlow are unwilling guests on an English frigate where James is accused of murder. Other murders follow in subsequent adventures.

In their latest adventure, the Ludlows find an abandoned merchant ship as they convey a group of French mariners fleeing the French Revolution to the New Orleans of 1795. The Spanish authorities are suspicious of the Ludlows and desperately interested in finding out what happened to the ship. Large sums of money and revolutionary politics are involved. As a result the Ludlows are pinned under the guns of New Orleans until they can solve the mystery. In between dealing with surly French sailors and suspicious Spaniards Harry Ludlow finds time to fall in love. The book ends with a chase up the Mississippi and the final attempt to extract their ship from the Spanish.

Although well worth a read, this is not the best novel of what is generally an above average series. It repeats the formula of the previous books a little too closely. The major addition is the love story and it is not handled well. It never seems clear why Harry becomes so passionately involved and as a result the affair does little to add to our knowledge of Harry's character. Perhaps because of the time devoted to the love affair, the “bad guys” seem less well defined than in earlier novels. This is a shame because the “bad guys” had considerable promise. The “opposition” in the earlier novels of the series have been worthy of our attention, while hardly being carbon copies of each other. I like the Ludlows and their servant Pender. I would like to get to know them better. I hope that future novels are a little less formula driven and spend more time on the character of the protagonists. Having expressed disappointment with the latest installment, I still suggest that you try to find the series and read them all. If you like this type of story you will enjoy Donachie's embellishment on the tradition. It's a shame that they are so hard to find in the United States.

Copyright © 1997 by Peter Cannon
Commercial reproduction prohibited without written consent of the author.

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