Scapegrace British naval officer Alan Lewrie (H.M.S. Cockerel, 1995, etc.) sails into troubled waters during the third year of England's war with revolutionary France. In the spring of 1794, Lewrie leaves Portsmouth for the Mediterranean at the helm of his first command, an 18-gun sloop renamed Jester after its capture from the French. Arriving in Corsica, he renews acquaintance with the luscious Phoebe Aretino, the demimondaine who loved and lost one of Lewrie's fallen shipmates. Rousted from his cozy love, the lusty captain (whose wife and children cause him manageable pangs of remorse) joins a Genoa-based squadron (led by the young, aggressive Horatio Nelson) on blockade duty offshore northern Italy. Eager for glory, not to mention prize money, Lewrie assaults a coastal town garrisoned by French troops, silencing its harbor battery and seizing a string of supply vessels. Initially pleased by his subordinate's bold stroke, Nelson distances himself in the wake of atrocity allegations; besides, the unfounded reports make Lewrie easy prey for Zachariah Twigg, a Foreign Office intelligence operative. The raid also alerts Guillaume Choundras, a vindictive Breton with whom Lewrie has crossed swords before, to the hapless captain's whereabouts. To plant misinformation in the right circles and lure his old foe into battle, Lewrie is obliged to bed Claudia Mastandrea, an aristocratic courtesan who spies for the French. Surprised by Phoebe at this pastime, Lewrie slinks back to sea, where he indeed catches up with the villainous Choundras. After an exciting shallow-water chase, he follows the former privateer onto the beach at Vado Bay, where the Austrians are massing for an attack on French occupation forces. Having chased his quarry far inland, Lewrie fells him with a single shot from a long rifle; believing Choundras dead, the resilient mariner returns to the good ship Jester for a long voyage home. Another rowdy cruise for the immensely appealing Lewrie, with almost two decades to go in the Anglo-French belligerency.