Betrayal, by Julian Stockwin

Ignore the photo of the rifles, folks. No, they didn’t have the Brown Bess in left and right hand models, but you tell the cover designers that and they’ll turn nasty …

There are books I try to avoid, and books I have to buy. To my great shame, there are also books which I haven’t read – mainly, in my defence, because I don’t have that much time to read. I have a lot of books to read before I can write my own ones, and for that reason, even though I have a growing pile of books to read when I get time (time? Ye Gods, that is one commodity missing from my life), they’ll all have to wait until I’ve finished my own book. I’m late on my latest deadline.

Yes. I tend to have to pick up books about warfare, about armour, about the history of mental illness and treatment in the fourteenth century, or how dogs were trained to hunt. Exciting books: no time for fiction.

Years ago I used to have more time. In those days there was little more enjoyable, I found, than a chance to sit down with a bottle of deeply naughty whisky (cask strength), light a fire and read the latest Patrick O’Brian. In fact, I would think that he absorbed as many Christmas breaks as MR James and Elliot O’Donnell. I used to love ghost stories, you see.

But all of that lengthy preamble is only to say what a delight it has been to read Julian Stockwin’s latest.

I’ve known Julian from the writing circuit for at least ten years now, I’d guess. I first met him at an author’s day in Tavistock Library, I think, or it could have been a festival in Cornwall – I’m not sure. But I do know that I have been aware of his work for a long time, and it is a matter of huge regret that I have never found the time to immerse myself in his titles.

I will rectify that.

Julian was himself a sailor. He joined the British navy (when we still had one) at the age of fifteen, before going out to join the Royal Australian Navy. He has had experience of the various seas he describes in his books, and that deep knowledge and understanding shows in his writing.

This book is one of a series set in the very early 1800s. After the successful attack on Cape Town, HMS L’Aurore was not enjoying the tiresome duty of sailing up and down the African coast. Her commander, Kydd, and his confidential secretary Renzi are bored.

So when they hear from their commander, Commodore Popham, of unrest in the Spanish colonies, it seems a fair idea to race across the ocean with a small force of ships and soldiers, to make a swift assault on the small city of Buenos Aires. The tales of silver was one incentive, but for British naval officers, the potential for glory while simultaneously hurting the Spanish is just too tempting to resist.

But when they manage to reach the city, and learn that the promised uprising fails to materialise, they realise that they are too small a force, and that the population is growing more and more hostile to the British forces.

This is a brilliant read. From the first page I was hooked and (apologies to my own editor) I was forced to set aside my own work. It’s firmly grounded on the characters and the locations depicted, but also in the actual history of the time.

A superb, rip-roaring read in the best traditions of Hornblower and Aubrey and Maturin.

Betrayal is published by Hodder and Stoughton, with the ISBN : 978 1 444 71200 1

With thanks to Hodder and Stoughton for the review copy.

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