Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies
C. S. Forester
Reviewed by D. Andrew McChesney
Having gained promotion to flag rank, and with England and the world finally at peace, Horatio Hornblower takes up duty as commander in chief of the West Indies Squadron. While his command is quite diminished from its war time strength, other considerations give the vaunted sea officer plenty to do.
In terms of Hornblower’s life and career, this is the final novel, although it is not the last to be written. Forester deviates from what has come to be the standard layout for the Hornblower novels. Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies is more a collection of short stories or novellas. Beginning with the Admiral’s visit to New Orleans and ending with his reunion and journey home with Lady Barbara, five nearly separate stories chronicle his time in the Caribbean. While the stories are interrelated, it is possible to read each as an individual work. Reference from one to another is minimal.
During his visit to New Orleans, Hornblower uncovers evidence of a plot to free the imprisoned Napoleon from St. Helena. In a last ditch effort to prevent that from happening, he willingly compromises his sacred honor, prepares to submit his resignation, only to find the event he invented had actually occurred.
Other challenges for Hornblower include capturing a slave ship, eliminating nest of pirates, pursuit of an English adventurer siding with rebels in Spanish South America. Just prior to his replacement’s arrival, Hornblower is faced with the distasteful task of bringing a marine bandsman up on charges. Once ceremoniously relieved of his duties, the journey home is fraught with danger, when the packet in which he and Lady Barbara journey is all but sunk by a powerful hurricane.
Forester does an excellent job of portraying and older, more mature, and somewhat mellower Horatio Hornblower. His diplomatic skills are at their highest, whether he is dealing with foreign nations or individuals in his command. In all, Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies marks a fitting end to the stories and the career of Horatio Hornblower. According to the copy read for this review, the book was originally published in the mid to late 1950s. This edition (ISBN 0-316-28941-8 (pb)) is a reissue by Back Bay Books from 2000. Cover price is $13.00 US.