Midshipman Richard Bolitho, just back from his first auspicious cruise (which launched the series) and no longer, as he puts it, ""the boy who went to sea with an apple in his pocket,"" has the misfortune to be pressed into service--along with fellow-midshipman Martyn Dancer--by his older brother Hugh, a hothead now ignominiously in command of the naval cutter Avenger. Smugglers are operating all-too-freely on the 1773 Cornwall coast, so Hugh, bent on a comeback, devises a ticklish extra-legal ruse to trap them--and proceeds with it, to Richard's horror, at mortal risk to Martyn. Worse still, when the scheme fails disastrously and Martyn is taken hostage, he disputes leading localite Sir Henry Vyvyan's willingness to swap the one captured smuggler for Martyn. But Sir Henry, it emerges, has selfish reasons for wanting to free the smuggler, a potential witness to his own involvement. And Hugh, casting off for a stormy Christmas-Eve sea chase, will have revenge and a shot at redemption. Vigorous personalities, tight scenes, stark contrasts, and a young, adult-acting cast--tyrannical Hugh is only 21.