Reviewed by David Maclaine
Caribbee, number fourteen in Julian Stockwin's series of "Kydd Sea Adventures," offers its fans one more reason to envy the life these novels have won for the author. In previous afterwords he has described his pattern of spending six months on research, including trips to the locations he so evocatively describes, followed by six to do the writing. There is a special glow to the author's recreation of the Caribbean Islands as they were in the early nineteenth century, and it's clear Stockwin enjoyed revisiting the scenes his hero, Thomas Paine Kydd, first explored at a much humbler stage of his naval career.
By now Kydd is post captain of a fine-sailing, though lightly gunned frigate. His mission to inform the Leeward Islands squadron of the situation in South America results in his immediate transfer to this new theater of war. Now the emphasis is on defense rather than conquest, for the sugar trade is England's economic lifeline, and Napoleon will stop at nothing to wreak havoc on the trade. Kydd enjoys his return to the scenes of his youth from a more exalted social status, but also faces sharp professional challenges as he deals with privateers, French frigates, and a mysterious conspiracy that threatens to paralyze the vital island trade. His friend Renzi plays a crucial role, induced once again to take on the challenge of clandestine intelligence.
A subplot involves the return of a hated officer from Kydd's past, now a heavy-handed captain driving his crew toward mutiny. The collision of this storyline with Kydd's involves a slightly contrived climax, and Stockwin failed to mystify me about the identity of a spy. But the prospect of another trip to hurricane country should overshadow these slight weaknesses; fans of the series will want to read Caribbee. (2013, 352 pages)More about Caribbee at Powell's Books or Amazon.com