Based on an actual incident involving the ""conspiracy"" and subsequent execution of the midshipman son of Tyler's Secretary of War, this novel about the Naval Inquiry is handily rigged to exploit contemporary political/philosophical currents. Midshipman Spencer, aboard the Somers, a U.S. brig on an 1842 training cruise, confronts, in his own playful and sardonic fashion, the rigidity of the Naval code, a concentration of all that to him seems oppressive in unloving, war-bent societies. And its stolid, pontifical symbol is Captain Mackenzie, flag-wrapped, convinced that destiny can be manifest through a ""higher duty"" having little to do with simple human relationships. An attractive, exuberant Icarus, Spencer flies high on irreverence: he confounds rank by mainly associating with the crew; he burlesques warlike attitudes; and he even refuses to be physically confined to the ship, as he lolls gleefully and dangerously over the side. (""There is no freedom in Society. One must break out of it."") Inevitably Spencer stumbles into a conspiracy charge and is hanged with two others. Surgeon Leacock tells the tale, as he explores before and after the official inquiry the history of the unloved outcast, and also the natures and definitions of integrity and sham. Utilitarian but still a good story.