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Heart of Oak: The Bolitho Novels #27

Heart of Oak: The Bolitho Novels #27

3.6 7
by Alexander Kent

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After the war with France has ended in 1818, Captain Adam Bolitho is given command of the newly commissioned frigate Onward and sent to North Africa on a diplomatic mission to accompany the French frigate Nautilus in a show of solidarity. He knows he is lucky—the voyage should be easy; but Adam longs for a chance to marry the beautiful Lowenna


After the war with France has ended in 1818, Captain Adam Bolitho is given command of the newly commissioned frigate Onward and sent to North Africa on a diplomatic mission to accompany the French frigate Nautilus in a show of solidarity. He knows he is lucky—the voyage should be easy; but Adam longs for a chance to marry the beautiful Lowenna and settle down on the Bolitho estate in Cornwall. Instead he must deal with the envy and ambition of his officers, hidden agendas among his men, and the former enemy’s proximity. Then the Nautilus becomes a sacrificial offering on the altar of Empire, and the hunt is on for a treacherous foe. Suddenly every man must discover for himself whether the brotherhood of the sea can transcend old hatreds and an ocean of blood.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The ongoing tragedy of the Congo serves as the backdrop for this tepid thriller, Donelson's first novel. After TV newscaster Valerie Grey gets passed over for an evening anchor job at the MBS network, she tries to lose herself in Africa, where she stumbles on a diamond-smuggling scheme involving not only a sleazy American televangelist but also the George W. Bush-like U.S. president. Valerie quickly becomes the target of the conspiracy's members and, predictably, finds herself falling for the hunky idealistic doctor who runs a local clinic. Readers should be prepared for some clunky prose ("Valerie's brown eyes flashed a warning, the green flecks in the irises dancing with anger"). Those seeking a novel that explores human exploitation in 21st-century Africa on the level of, say, John le Carré's The Mission Song will be disappointed. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.\
Historical Novels Review
A rousing adventure to keep us turning the pages, all flavored with a nautical tang.

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McBooks Press
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The Bolitho Novels , #27
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Heart of Oak

The Bolitho Novels: 27

By Alexander Kent

McBooks Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Bolitho Maritime Productions
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59013-380-4


Face to Face

The Falmouth-bound coach hesitated at the brow of a low hill, its wheels jerking and spinning against yet another ridge of frozen mud. The horses, four-in-hand, took the strain, stamping with frustration, their breath steaming in the pale, misty sunlight. They, more than any, were aware that their part of the journey was almost over.

It was February and still bitterly cold, as it had been since this year of 1818 had first dawned. Longer than that, many would say along Cornwall's southern approaches. Trees like black bones, as if they would never throw a leaf or bud again; slate walls and the occasional farm roof like polished metal. The coachman, big and shapeless in his heavily caped coat, flicked the reins. No urgency, no haste; he knew his horses and the road as he knew his own strength. His passengers and baggage took second place.

At the rear of the coach, the guard, equally unrecognizable under layers of clothing and an old blanket, wiped his eyes and stared across the straining horses and saw a flock of gulls rise from somewhere, circling, perhaps looking for food as the vehicle rolled past. The sea was never far away. The horses were changed at the authorized stables, but he and the driver had been with the coach all the way from Plymouth. He shifted his buttocks to restore the circulation to his limbs and felt the pressure of his gun beneath the blanket. The coach carried mail as well as passengers, and the crest emblazoned on either door proclaimed risk as well as pride.

Up and around the bleak waste of Bodmin Moor he had seen a few ragged, scarecrow figures still hanging at the roadside. Left to rot and the ravages of the crows as a warning to any would-be robber or highwayman. But there would always be some one.

He saw the coachman raise his fist. Nothing more. No more was necessary.

Another stretch of broken track. He swore under his breath. Somebody should get the convicts out of their warm cells to repair it. There were no longer any French prisoners of war for such work. Waterloo was almost four years ago, becoming nothing more than a memory to those who had been spared the risk and the pain.

He banged on the roof. "'Old on below!"

One of the passengers was a young woman. The violent motion of the coach, despite its new springs, had made her vomit several times. It had meant stopping, much to the annoyance of the man with her, her father. She was with child. Lucky to have got this far, the guard thought. The horses were slowing their pace, ears twitching, waiting for a word or a whistle. He saw some farm gates, one sagging into the ground. Did the farmer not know, or care? He loosened the case containing the long horn, to announce their approach. The last leg ...

There was a frantic tapping on the roof. She was going to be sick again.

The horses were getting back into their stride, the wheels running more smoothly on the next piece of road. They would be thinking of their stables. The tapping had stopped.

He raised the horn and moistened it with his tongue. It was like ice.

Inside the coach it was not much warmer, despite the sealed windows and the blue leather cushions. There were blankets too, although with the motion it had been hard to keep them in place.

Midshipman David Napier wedged his shoulder into his seat and watched the passing trees reaching out as if to claw at the window, the paler shapes of a house or barn looming in the background.

It was not his imagination: the sky was already darker. He must have fallen asleep, despite his troubled thoughts and the swoop and jerk of the vehicle. He had forgotten how many times they had pulled off the road, to change horses and take a few steps to ease mind and body. Or to allow the young woman who sat opposite him to find refuge behind a bush or tree.

And her father, his impatience, even anger at each delay. They had stopped overnight at a small inn somewhere outside St Austell. Even that seemed unreal. A hard bench seat and a hasty meal, alone in a tiny room above the stableyard. Voices singing, and drunken laughter, ending eventually in a mixture of threats and curses, which had only added to Napier's sense of loss and uncertainty.

He winced, and realized he had been gripping his leg beneath the blanket. The deep wound was ever ready to remind him. And it was not a dream or a nightmare. It was now.

More houses were passing, some in shadow. A harder, firmer road, the wheels clattering evenly, and then the sudden blare of the horn. Louder this time, thrown back from solid walls.

He licked his lips and imagined they tasted of salt. Twice he had seen the glint of water, the land folding away, final.

The other passenger, who had scarcely spoken all the way from Plymouth, jerked upright in his seat and peered around.

"Are we there?" He sniffed and stifled a cough. A thin, stooped figure, dressed in black: a lawyer's senior clerk, he had disclosed. He carried a leather case, heavily sealed, probably documents, and obviously not intended even for his own eyes.

"Coming into Falmouth now." Napier watched the buildings, some already showing lights.

The clerk sniffed again. "Of course, you sailors always know your way about, don't you?" He chuckled, but seized the case as it threatened to slip from his lap.

Napier stared through the window. The coach had passed a church in Plymouth; he vaguely remembered it from that last visit, when their ship, the frigate Unrivalled, had come home to carry out repairs, battle damage from the Algiers attack, and to be paid off. And forgotten, except by those who had served in her. Those who had survived.

Like her captain, Adam Bolitho, who, despite the strains of combat and command and the stark news of dismissal, had kept the promise he had made that day in Plymouth.

Fore Street, and the tailor's establishment, where Napier had barely been able to believe what was happening. The tailor beaming and rubbing his hands, asking the captain what he required.

Your services for this young gentleman. Measure him for a midshipman's uniform. So calmly said, but with one hand on Napier's shoulder, which had made it a moment he would never forget.

This was not the same uniform; he had been fitted out again in Antigua, where the old Jacks said you could get all you needed, if you had the money in your purse.

His first ship as a midshipman, the frigate Audacity, had been blown apart by heated shot from the shore artillery at San José. The memories were a blur. The roar of gunfire, men screaming and dying ... then in the water ... the madness, men still able to cheer as the flagship had closed with the enemy. To attack. To win. Captain Bolitho's ship.

He had scarcely had time to get to know most of Audacity's company. Like a family. The navy's way. Those you would fight for ... he thought of the dead midshipman on the beach, when he had dragged him ashore after the bombardment. And those you would always hate.

He closed his mind to it, like slamming a door. It was in the past. But the future?

The coach was slowing, taking a wide bend in the road. In his mind's eye he could see the old grey house, anticipating the warmth and the welcome. Wanting to feel a part of it, like one of them. Like a dream.

He touched his leg again. Suppose a dream was all it had been?

Doors opening, horses stamping on cobbles, snorting as men ran to unfasten the harnesses, some one waving, a woman hurrying to throw her arms around the girl who had been so sick. The lawyer's clerk gesturing to the guard, saying something about baggage, but still clinging to his sealed case.

Napier peered up at the inn sign. The Spaniards. Again, like a voice from the past.

The horses were gone, the coach standing abandoned. He saw his midshipman's chest on the cobbles with an inn servant stooping to look at the label.

The guard joined him. His burly companion had already vanished into the taproom. "End o' the road. For us, it is." He glanced around. "You bein' met? It's no place to stand an' freeze!"

Napier felt in his pocket for some coins. "No. Can I leave my chest here?"

He did not hear the answer. He was trying to think, clearly, coldly. He would walk to the house. He had done it with Luke Jago, the captain's coxswain. The hard man, who had taken him out to Audacity, and shouted his name as if he were enjoying it. "Come aboard to join!"

He felt now for the warrant with its scarlet seal of authority, which the young flag lieutenant had given him as he left the ship at Plymouth two days ago.

"Come along. We haven't got all day!"

Napier turned and saw the foul-tempered passenger beckoning to his daughter. He had remarked loudly on Napier's arrival that it was hardly fitting for a mere midshipman to travel in the same coach. The coachman had been unable to conceal his satisfaction when Napier had showed him the warrant bearing the vice-admiral's seal.

The girl brushed some hair from her forehead and smiled at him. "Thank you again for your kindness. I shall not forget." She reached out and put her gloved hand on his arm. "I am glad you are safe." She could not continue, but turned away and walked deliberately past her father.

"No need fer me to fret about you, zur." The guard dragged off his battered hat, his weathered face split into a grin. Something to tell the lads ...

A smart carriage, almost delicate compared to the stage, had halted, and a woman was stepping down, assisted by her own straight-backed coachman. People were turning to watch as she, slim and elegant in a dark red cloak, hurried to greet the midshipman.

Napier felt the arms around his shoulder, a hand on his face, his mouth. The tears against his skin.

She was saying, "A tree across the road ... Francis had to fetch help. I prayed you'd still be here!" She tossed her head like a girl, but the laugh he had always remembered would not come.

Napier could feel the warmth of her embrace, her pleasure and her sadness. He wanted to tell her, to explain, but his voice came out like a stranger's. "Lady Roxby, it all happened so quickly —"

But her hand was touching his mouth again and she was shaking her head, her eyes never leaving his. "Aunt Nancy, my dear. Remember?" She kept her voice level as she called to the coachman, "A hand here, Francis. Easy, now."

But Francis needed no such caution. He had served in the cavalry, and had not forgotten what the exhaustion of war looked like. And he had already seen the dark stain of blood on the midshipman's white breeches.

She stood by the carriage while Napier climbed with effort to the step. She was aware of the faces at the inn windows and on the street, discussing and speculating, but they could have been completely alone. She had last seen him as a boy, proud but shy in his new uniform, before he had left to join his ship. She had learned most of what had happened from the letter which had reached England in a fast courier brig from the Caribbean; the rest she could guess or imagine. She was a sea officer's daughter, and the sister of one of England's most famous sailors, and had soon learned that pain and glory usually walked hand in hand.

Napier was gazing back at her, his eyes filling his face. "I — I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it to be ..."

But Francis had edged past her and was easing the boy into a seat. "He'll be all right now, m' lady."

She nodded. "Thank you, Francis. You may take us home."


Luke Jago, Captain Adam Bolitho's coxswain, stood beside one of the tall windows and stared down into the street. The carriage, and a carrier's cart which had brought him and some personal belongings here had already departed, and after the endless journey from Plymouth it was like being abandoned, cut off from everything he knew or could recognize.

The street was deserted and, like this house, too quiet to be alive. The buildings directly opposite were faceless and imposing. He took his hand from the curtain and heard it swish back into position. Like the room itself: everything in its place. Overpowering. The ceiling seemed too high, out of reach. He thought of the flagship, Athena; even in the great cabin aft, you had to duck your head beneath the deckhead beams. Below on the gun decks it was even more cramped. How could these people ever understand what it was like to serve, to fight?

He relaxed very slowly, caught unaware by his own resentment. The house felt empty, probably had been for most of the time. Everything in its place. The fine chairs, glossy and uncreased, a vast marble fireplace, laid with logs but unlit. There were some flowers in a vase by another window. But this was February, and they were made of coloured silk.

Above a small inlaid desk there was a painting; he was surprised it had escaped his notice as he had entered the room. A portrait of a sea officer holding a telescope. A young captain, not yet posted, but Jago could still recognize Sir Graham Bethune, Vice-Admiral of the Blue, who had left his flagship in Portsmouth in such haste, as if staging a race with the devil.

He sat down very carefully in one of the satin chairs, and tried once again to marshal his thoughts. Jago had a keen brain and usually a memory to match it, but after the battle with the slavers at San José and the murderous battering from their shore-sited artillery, one event seemed to merge with another. Leading his boarding party to retake the schooner, and seeing the woman standing on the scarred deck staring past him at Athena, as if she were beyond pain, and her blood had been unreal. In action, memory can play many tricks. But Jago could still hear her calling out, as if with joy, in those last seconds before she fell dead.

The return to Antigua, the victors with their prizes, and the total, unnerving silence in English Harbour which had greeted them. Some of their people had been killed in the action and been buried at sea; others had been landed at Antigua and were still there under care.

Jago was hardened to sea warfare and its price. The long years of war with France and Spain were only a memory now, and they were at peace, although some might not see it that way. To the ordinary Jack, any man was an enemy if he was standing at the business end of a cannon, or holding his blade to your neck.

But that passage to Antigua still haunted Jago's mind.

A calm sea and light winds, lower deck cleared, and all work suspended on spars and rigging alike.

Jago had been in all kinds of fights, and had seen many familiar faces, some good, others bad, go over the side. But this was different. Her body stitched up in canvas, weighted with round shot, and covered with the flag. Our flag. Even some of the wounded had been on deck, crouching with their mates, or propped up against the hammock nettings to listen to the captain's voice, speaking the familiar words which most of them knew by heart.

And yet so different ...

Even the regular thump of the pumps, which had not stopped since the first crash of cannon fire, had been stilled.

And Bethune, their vice-admiral, had stood facing the infamous Lord Sillitoe. A victim or a culprit; it remained undecided, and somehow unimportant at that time and place Jago had later seen recorded in the master's log. The date and their position in the Caribbean when Catherine, Lady Somervell, was buried at sea.

He remembered Adam Bolitho's face when the grating had been raised, and they had heard the splash alongside. Sailors often thought about it, even joked about it on the messdeck. Not this time.

At Antigua there had been new orders waiting. Sillitoe, a friend of the Prince Regent, it was said, had been handed over into the custody of the commodore there, who had been promoted to rear-admiral while Athena and her consorts had been under fire.


Excerpted from Heart of Oak by Alexander Kent. Copyright © 2007 Bolitho Maritime Productions. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Alexander Kent is the pen name of Douglas Edward Reeman, who joined the British Navy at 16 and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant. He has taught navigation to yachtsmen and has served as a script adviser for television and films. He is the author of The Bolitho Novels series.

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Heart of Oak 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
JUMPINJACKFLASHME More than 1 year ago
To say the least, I was very disappointed with this final volume of the "Bolitho Series". The books center around a fictional British Naval family (the Bolitho's) of great prominence in the Kings service. The central character is Richard Bolitho and his ascent from a "ships powder monkey" at the age of 10, to his rise to "Admiral Bolitho" in his later years. These books are filled with accurate accounts of various battles with France, Spain, a young America, Caribbean pirates, buccaneers, slave traders and many other foe. Romantic involvement with several ladies of great repute (and some of ill repute), a constant parade of officers, sailors and the largest ships of the line to the smallest rowing cutter. A veritable cornucopia of interesting and informative (and largely heretofore unknown) glimpses into Naval history through the eyes of an officer with a sense of compassion ("Learn every mans name and use it. For most, it's the only thing they own"). This last novel written by Douglas Reeman under the pseudonym Alexander Kent, left me feeling as though the author just wanted to get the series closed and move on to other writing. I actually felt cheated because the book was much shorter than its predecessors. I had waded through the book hoping something significant would begin to solidify. It didn't. It seemed to wander aimlessly without the continuity that always appeared in Reeman's previous novels. Until this book, I believed in the London Times touting Reeman as "one of the foremost naval historians of our time". I'll agree to that about the other books but this was so dull, he used the same phrases and dialogue three times in this book. As I said, the first 26 were very good reading, but "Heart Of Oak" leaves one feeling a sense of being let down.
GConradDietz More than 1 year ago
Alas and woe is us, the last in the series has been read; hated to see them end as they were spectacular from Midshipman Bolitho to Heart of Oak. A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ireadallsummer More than 1 year ago
This was a huge disappointment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*she purrs* "Yes!" ~Shimmerbreeze
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Will you be my mate?"