Bonaparte at war with England provides a backdrop for McGee’s (Hawkwood, 2012, etc.) third Matthew Hawkwood saga.
A Bow Street Runner, "Hawkwood’s world was one of ill-lit streets, thieves’ kitchens, flash houses, rogues and rookeries." Think Regency-era FBI, or England’s Texas Rangers. Hawkwood’s been summoned by his wily, taciturn boss, James Read, to meet Capt. Ludd. England is housing French prisoners of war in "prison hulks" moored in rivers and harbors. Prison hulks are derelict vessels; conditions aboard are ugly, malodorous and unsanitary. Ludd says too many prisoners are disappearing, and he’s lost two lieutenants who were attempting to discover the escape routes. Read sends Hawkwood to learn the fate of the missing investigators. With gut-wrenching descriptions of the rotten conditions aboard the hulks, McGee plunges readers into the action. Hawkwood is relegated to the Rapacious, where Rafalés and Romans—so called because they wear blankets like togas—rule the bottommost decks, led by a wicked albino Corsican named Matisse. Hawkwood, posing as an American officer fighting for the French, befriends a French officer, a privateer captain named Lasseur. Lasseur and Hawkwood challenge Matisse. Matisse dies. Lasseur and Hawkwood are threatened with the noose, but they’re spirited off the hulk by a French underground group. Hawkwood and Read are likable, familiar characters developed over several volumes, but Lasseur is one-dimensional. Nevertheless, McGee’s narrative profits from ample research, and the yarn rapidly gallops off to the wild coastal lands sheltering free traders—smugglers. A handsome widow shelters the pair before they take refuge in an abandoned abbey, the redoubt of the blackguard Morgan, a well-described smuggler king, who threatens the pair into helping hijack gold meant for the Iron Duke’s troops. Hawkwood and Lasseur make more than one hairbreadth escape, rescued at the end by another well-developed regular character, Nathaniel Jago, Hawkwood’s old sergeant who's now sometimes on the wrong side of the law. McGee’s talent and research lend plausibility to the rollicking adventure.
Not a page without peril, whether from pistol, blade or rogue.