|Author||C. S. Forester|
|Published by||Michael Joseph, London|
| Preceded by|
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
| Followed by|
Hornblower and the Atropos
|May 1800||Mar 1803|
| Preceded by|
Hornblower and the Widow McCool
| Followed by|
Hornblower and the Hotspur
The book is unique in the series in that the story is told not from Horatio Hornblower's point of view, but rather from Mr. Bush's.
Hornblower, the Fifth and Junior Lieutenant on HMS Renown, copes with Captain James Sawyer's paranoid schizophrenia, and an incompetent First Lieutenant Buckland. William Bush, Hornblower's faithful companion and best friend, is introduced, boarding the vessel as the Third Lieutenant. The developing friendship between Bush and Hornblower is a major topic of the book. Though he is originally inferior in rank, Hornblower's intelligence and energy eventually lead to his promotion, senior to Bush.
Captain Sawyer runs his ship in a vicious and reckless fashion. He does not discipline the crew and indulges them with rum, but sadistically torments the officers. Sawyer's paranoia drives him on a midnight hunt to catch the officers plotting mutiny (so Sawyer incorrectly believes), and the Captain trips and falls into the hold. He is seriously injured, and raves in fear and madness. The circumstances of his fall are not explained, leaving the officers to wonder if someone pushed the Captain deliberately. Without proof, though, no one dares say he was pushed. With the Captain raving and unable to say how he fell, the ship's surgeon has no choice but to declare Sawyer unfit for command.
Lt. Buckland reluctantly takes command, and opens the ships orders. The Spanish have a fort and anchorage at Samana Bay on Santo Domingo, by the Mona Passage. This strong base allows privateers to raid English convoys entering the Caribbean. Now, a slave revolt has broken out in Santo Domingo, threatening the Spanish base. The privateer ships are the only garrisons only hope of escape if the rebellion overruns the Spanish defences. The Admiralty ordered Sawyer to take advantage of the revolt and root out the base, but Buckland simply is not up to the task. Buckland is a follower, but no leader. Buckland sails into Samana Bay with no plan and runs the ship aground under crossfire from two Spanish positions that are using heated shot. Hornblower and Bush demonstrate superior shiphandling, and drag the ship out of harms way using the anchors and ships boats.
Hornblower's brilliance and Bush's solid leadership save the mission when they lead an overland expedition to capture the main fort in a dawn assault. Hornblower uses the Spaniards heated shot against the privateer vessels, by figuring out the use of the fort's shot furnace. Bush and Hornblower establish another gun position further up the Bay, bring the Spanish ships under fire and threaten the garrison's escape from the revolt. This forces the garrison and the Spanish ships to surrender, and Buckland's promotion seems assured. The prisoners are loaded aboard the ships under guard and the Spanish fortifications are destroyed. Buckland sets sail for Kingston to report to the British Admiral there.
Unfortunately for Buckland, he is careless and the prisoners seize control of the Renown during the night. They capture Buckland in bed, ruining his chance of promotion. Hornblower thwarts the prisoner attack and retakes the ship, but in the desperate fighting, Sawyer is killed and Bush seriously wounded. Upon their return to port, Buckland is passed over; instead, Hornblower is promoted to Commander.
The Samana expedition shows Hornblower's ability to plan ahead, out-think an opponent, and anticipate events far better than his colleagues. The story is told from Bush's perspective, so the reader watches as Hornblower earns Bush's loyalty. Hornblower opens a convoy route to Kingston, defeats the Spanish twice, and earns respect and promotion while saddled with an irresolute acting Captain. Seeing this, Bush never again questions Hornblower's ability.
Unfortunately, the Peace of Amiens is signed before Hornblower's promotion can be confirmed, and he is demoted once again to a lieutenant. Moreover, the demotion is retroactive, and he is forced to repay the additional money he had received as commander. Reduced to poverty, he ekes out a living by playing whist for money in the Long Rooms. He resides in a lodging house, where he meets his future wife Maria, the daughter of the landlady. Bush meets him several times, and notes in a newspaper that Midshipman Wellard, who (apart from Hornblower) might be the only witness to Captain Sawyer's fall into the hold, has drowned in an accident.
The Peace of Amiens comes to an end. War has not yet begun, but is imminent, as evinced by a press gang Hornblower and Bush encounter. Hornblower's promotion is therefore confirmed (by a Lord of the Admiralty he impresses with his exceptional cardplaying skills) and he is appointed commander of a sloop of war.
- James Sawyer, Captain
- Buckland, First Lieutenant
- Bush, Third Lieutenant
- Horatio Hornblower, Fifth Lieutenant
- Hobbs, acting-gunner
- Maria Mason