An Ill Wind continues the John Pearce saga with Donald Donachie's usual panache. Illegally pressed into the Navy, Pearce has risen to a lieutenancy thanks to his intelligence and courage, but he remains a radical firebrand and continues to strive to vindicate himself and to free his friends. Pearce's nemesis is the odious and pusillanimous Captain Ralph Barclay, who is supported by a coterie of unscrupulous toadies. The struggle with Barclay is tied up with the conflict between Admiral Hood and his second-in-command, Admiral Hotham, as well as the rivalry between Pitt and Fox for control of the government. Pearce and Barclay are pawns in the larger internecine strife and each man's success depends on being able to advance his patron's cause. Donachie manages suspense well -- how can Pearce prevail over unprincipled schemers who will stop at nothing to do him down?
As this book, the sixth of the series, opens, the principal characters are all in Toulon just as Bonaparte and the revolutionary forces are overrunning the city, and the action is hot. Pearce serves aboard a fire ship alongside Sir Sidney Smith and then participates in the evacuation of the city. After the fall of the city Pearce and Barclay are both given missions in England and along with their followers, as well as Barclay's beautiful and unhappy wife, they take passage on the same leaky ship. A recipe for conflict and intrigue! All the characters do not stay together and, as they drift apart, the story evolves into several parallel narratives. If, by the end of the book, Pearce does not find resolution, he can at least allow himself to be hopeful -- and the scene is set for the next eagerly-awaited John Pearce novel!
Donachie does a good job of presenting the back-story for new readers, but An Ill Wind is definitely one of a series. There are, for instance, several pages devoted to Ben Walker, one of Pearce's friends (known to all as the Pelicans) who was long ago separated from the group. This passage does not advance the narrative at all, and Walker does not reappear, but it serves to keep the long-time reader aware and interested in Walker's fate. One assumes that the Ben Walker thread will be rewoven into the main story in some future volume.
If I were David Donachie, I would be disappointed in my publisher. The book design is not up to the quality of previous books. The font has changed, the paper is different -- inferior, I think -- and the wonderful type face used for the page headings has been dropped. The dust jacket illustration shows (Please! correct me if I'm wrong!) a craft that would have been a hundred years out of date in Pearce's time. Perhaps the American edition will address some of that.
Description of: An Ill Wind
Author: David Donachie