A lovely and welcome oddity: the much-loved author’s final fragment, titled simply by its position in the canon.
Correctly deciding that it would be impossible if not sacrilegious to hire a writer to complete successfully a work no more than a quarter finished, thereby placing one of the 20th-century’s finest prose stylists among the ranks of the undead that populate the thriller and crime shelves in the bookstores, Norton has instead taken the high road and released this tantalizing beginning as O’Brian left it. What his devoted readers will find is a lightly edited printing of the typescript, each page faced by a photocopy of the manuscript page from which it had been transcribed, and then, when the typed pages stopped, the handwritten pages alone. The effect is tantalizing, touching, and powerful. The story takes up with newly minted Admiral Jack Aubrey and his bosom friend and colleague, scholar-spy Dr. Stephen Maturin, rounding Cape Horn on Surprise, headed for the mouth of the River Plate, where Aubrey is to transfer his flag to a new squadron headed for new assignments off the Cape of Good Hope. Days of superbly calm sailing take them to the Argentine republic where, thanks to murderous local political storms, their welcome is cool if not hostile, a situation eased splendidly by the arrival of the Papal Nuncio, a supremely charming African polyglot who is also Aubrey’s illegitimate son, the happy result of an ancient liaison. When the squadron at last arrives under the command of the windbaggy peer Lord Leyton, it brings trouble in the form of Maturin’s old Trinity classmate Randolph Miller, a scoundrel who is also Lord Leyton’s cousin. There is a Confrontation and a duel, and then all sail for Africa by way of St. Helena. And there the story stops, ending in a superb afterword by Richard Snow.
It’s all there. The wonderful language. The leisurely pace. The rich detail. There’s just no end. Readers will be left to their dreams.