The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower
Michael Joseph, 1970
ISBN 0-7181-0787-X

Devil to Pay
John Murray, 1973
ISBN 0-7195-2838-0

Britannia Rules: The Classic Age of Naval History 1793-1815
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977
ISBN 0-297-77287-2

All by
C. Northcote Parkinson

Reviews by Danny Yee

If publications are a guide, C. Northcote Parkinson must rank as the foremost fan of C.S. Forester's Hornblower novels. Devil to Pay is the first in a series of four novels in direct emulation of Forester. It introduces Richard Delancey, a lieutenant under a shadow after a dispute between officers and captain in his previous ship, who begins to make a name for himself as a secret agent and volunteer revenue officer. Parkinson is definitely not in Patrick O'Brian's class as a novelist -- or in Forester's as a storyteller --, so this series is probably for the naval fiction addict only.

A more rewarding treat for Forester fans is Parkinson's fictional biography of Horatio Hornblower himself. With photographs, appendices, and an index, this is a fairly serious example of the genre (Parkinson also wrote a biography of Wodehouse's Jeeves). It fills in the gaps in Horblower's career using "documentary evidence" uncovered since Forester wrote his stories and is actually more interesting than Forester's own Hornblower Companion. The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower is an amusing conceit which Parkinson doesn't take too seriously, gently parodying a certain style of biography.

Britannia Rules is a history of the British navy from 1793 to 1815, during the war against first the French Republic and then Napoleon. It is a straightforward and readable popular account, which covers institutional and administrative history as well the major fleet engagements, the Great Mutiny, and the role of sea power in the overall course of the war. Only two hundred pages long and lacking references, Britannia Rules is not a replacement for a definitive formal history -- something which, as Parkinson points out, remains to be written. There are surprisingly few works which cover this material (though there are plenty of biographies of Nelson) and, given the number of Forester and O'Brian fans, there is definitely an opportunity for someone here.

Copyright © 1997 by Danny Yee
Commercial reproduction prohibited without written consent of the author.

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