Matthew Quinton, the appealing title hero of Davies' Gentleman Captain (2010), returns in this 17th-century seafaring saga on a royal assignment to find a long-rumored mountain of gold in North Africa.
Can the scoundrel who swears he has seen these riches be trusted? Should his punishment for crimes against the British fleet be suspended so he can lead Quinton to the gold? Meanwhile, back in the northern British village of Ravensden, can King Charles II be trusted in promoting the marriage of Quinn's brother to a woman who is said to have murdered her two previous spouses? Told in breezy, larkish fashion, the book pits Quinn against one Brian Doyle O'Dwyer, whom he first encounters as a surviving Malta galley man calling himself Omar Ibrahim—an Irish rogue speaking Arabic with an Irish brogue. Charles, who will do anything to acquire the riches to put England on equal financial footing with the Dutch, quickly names O'Dwyer a lieutenant colonel in the Irish army. Quinn knows the search for gold has folly written all over it but is smart enough to know not to stand in the way of a king with visions of instant wealth. Numerous fact-based characters appear in the novel, including Samuel Pepys and naval and military leader Robert Holmes. Equally comfortable as a social observer, Davies thrives on the down time back in England before the big voyage, wittily describing political rivalries, adulteries and Quinn's fruitless efforts to have a baby with his Dutch wife. His encounters with pirates may be the least-interesting part of the story.
A naval adventure that goes well beyond the usual outlines of the genre to paint a lively portrait of England in the 1600s.