Prequel to The Raging of the Sea (1984) that traces the roots of a British naval mutiny in 1931.
The actual mutiny, a sailors’ protest against cuts in pay, assisted by a stalwart man of the people, officer Frank Jannaway, resembles a strike more than an open insurrection. The bulk of this page-turner involves an upstairs-downstairs British family saga, beginning with Frank as a boy. His mother goes to work as a housekeeper at Meonford Hall, the estate of retired Commodore Sir Jervis Yarrow, an old salt with a penchant for womanizing, a practice that drove his first wife to suicide. With all the familiar melodramatic ingredients–especially class conflict, which informs the major tensions of the novel–the narrative could easily morph into a British mini-series. When the story begins, Sir Yarrow is remarried to a Russian â€œfancy woman,” who gives birth to vivacious Anita. Her infatuation with Frank leads to the hero’s eviction from Meonford Hall and his subsequent enrollment in the Royal Navy. As the two mature, the attraction eventually erupts into an affair, but fate conspires to douse the flames of passion. Anita’s half-brother, Roddy–spoiled, corrupt, vain and petty–joins the narrative as he steals from a classmate and lies about it. The meeker, younger Frank takes a beating from Roddy when he accidentally witnesses Roddy burying the stolen item. Fearing reprisal, Frank is afraid to turn Roddy in, instead admitting that he sustained his injuries by falling off a wall. This dynamic foreshadows the dramatic action to come, when Frank is appointed to the ship captained by the swaggering Roddy.
Convincing details of seamanship, craftily written and well paced, but relies too much on stock characters and convenient dramatic conflicts.