by Patrick O’Brian
Other authors have readers; Patrick O’Brian has addicts. Hooked on his 17-volume, Aubrey-Maturin series, they will become weak and wobbly from the first sentence of The Commodore: “Thick weather in the chops of the Channel and a dirty night, with the strong north-east wind bringing rain from the low sky and racing cloud: Ushant somewhere away on the starboard bow, the Scillies to larboard, but never a light, never a star to be seen; and no observation for the last four days.”
For those coming in late: O’Brian’s series follows the fortunes of two friends, Royal Navy Capt. Jack Aubrey and doctor-naturalist-spy Stephen Maturin, during the Napoleonic wars. A lesser writer could take the same material and produce romantic claptrap; O’Brian creates literature. Although the books are built on plots linked to sea battles and traitors, the heart of the enterprise is O’Brian’s nuanced depiction of human relationships—especially friendship and love, as they evolve over time—and his ability to create a world so detailed, it seems touchable.
The Commodore brings Aubrey and Maturin home to London after a five-volume journey around the world. Although O’Brian introduces a couple of intertwining plots about the slave trade and a planned French landing in Ireland, his real goal seems to be tying up loose ends—and having fun while doing it. Newcomers, therefore, may feel a bit at sea, and veterans will find the tone lighter perhaps than any volume in the series. (Norton, $22.50)