The Hundred Days
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Jack is long delayed getting to Gibraltar and in the meantime a disaster has struck at home—Diana has been killed when her carriage overturned on a bridge, also claiming Sophie’s mother, Mrs. Williams, as a victim. It is a very somber Stephen, determined to weather this crisis without the aid of alcohol, tobacco, laudanum or coca-leaves, who arrives with Jack where they are both briefed on the confused situation in the Mediterranean.
Numerous French ships are either under construction or repair, many of their officers undecided over whether to follow the imperial or the royal banner. More importantly the Brotherhood of Assassins, an ancient order of Muslim mercenaries, are willing to follow Bonaparte because of his conversion and prepared to thrust upward from Turkey between the slowly advancing Austrians and Russians, preventing their rendez-vous with Wellington in Belgium and giving Napoleon a decided advantage. They’re only waiting for a shipment of gold from Shiek ibn Hazm in Morocco, to be sent by camel caravan to a northern African port, probably Algiers, and then by sea to the Turks.
Stephen enlists the aid of his friend Amos Jacob, fellow physician and intelligence agent, a Beni Mzab Jew whose family used to be jewel merchants throughout the Mediterranean, familiarizing him with its lands and languages.
In need of success in the Adriatic to attempt the second mission, Surprise and Pomone visit many ports where French ships are being built. They convince two frigates to support the royalists, including one they meet at sea, commanded by Christy-Pallière. They sink another one in a swift shoot out inside a harbor.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kent, a banker Stephen has consulted, has made sure no bank in the Mediterranean will advance credit to the French, meaning their local shipwrights haven’t been paid. Stephen and Jacob meet with the local secret society/trade union and the next day all the shipyards on the coast go up in flames, ending the French threat to trade.
With this victory under their belts, the Surprise puts them ashore in Algiers, where the gold will reportedly be shipped once it has come overland from Morocco. There Stephen learns a new dey has recently seized power and is now away hunting lions to allow his enemies to plot. They travel overland and meet with the dey’s vizier, who seems disingenuous in his support, then to the dey’s hunting lodge, where Stephen gains the dey’s respect, even saving his life from a lion they hunt together and earning a remarkable rifle as a gift. Stopping again at the vizier’s on the return voyage, Jacob learns from one of his fellow Cainites (a Jewish secret society) that the vizier has sent a message to ibn Hazm who will instead embark the gold into a galley on the coast of Morocco.
They depart for Algiers immediately where they learn there has been yet another revolution, bringing an extremely pro-English dey to power. The Surprise has been blown off the coast by a storm and Stephen must wait as precious time ticks by. The Ringle finally arrives to fetch them, for the frigate has been badly damaged.
Back at Gibralter, Jacob learns there will be two decoys in addition to the actual galley, which will come from the north at new moon. Keeping their departure secret until the last moment, the Surprise lies in wait and pursues the galley down the African coast for days. In the exchange of chaser fire, Bonden is killed. The galley goes ashore on an island frequently used by pirates, but Jack forces them to surrender by hauling a cannon up a cliff to the island’s heights, capturing the pirates and the gold.
Returning to Gibraltar, they learn from Lord Keith and his wife Queenie (Jack’s childhood babysitter) that Napoleon has been defeated once and for all at Waterloo. Stephen and Jack prepare to resume their private voyage to Chile.
You can tell O’Brian realizes there aren’t many more novels to come from his almost casual killing of Diana and Bonden in this novel. This is a very tight novel very capable of standing on its own, an excellent intelligence story. (2/27/07)