This doesn't mean I haven't been reading - far from it. In the last few months I have discovered and devoured this entire series of six books by Peter Smalley. All six books, beginning with "HMS Expedient", feature the same two main characters, Captain William Rennie and Lieutenant James Hayer. The publisher humbly suggests that "HMS Expedient" is "a masterful sea story and a brilliant debut in the tradition of "Patrick O'Brian"" (yes, they gave O'Brian his own quotation marks). That is a remarkably powerful claim, especially for an author who hails from Melbourne.
So what did this Patrick O'Brian fan think? Well, I really enjoyed "HMS Expedient" and did harbour hopes that Smalley would develop into a nautical fiction writer capable of standing comparison with the master himself. Sadly, however, I have to say that it hasn't happened yet. Whereas the concept of "HMS Expedient" was good, the storyline strong and the characters well developed, I question whether Smalley has written his second novel yet as the five sequels all appear to be "HMS Expedient" rewritten in different geographical settings. This makes each book enjoyable and well written as a standalone story but does grate a bit when you read all six within six months as I did.
The biggest disappointment for me in "The Pursuit" was in the development of the two main characters. Smalley is to be commended for not leaving them static and one dimensional throughout the series but I felt that the development of Rennie, in particular, was not consistent with what we had learned of him in the previous five books and often seemed inconsistent within the book itself. Hayter seemed to have changed less in character while the plot device of his marital problems, left tantalisingly unresolved at the end of the book, hinted that greater changes may be afoot.
The plot of "The Pursuit" was more believable than several of the preceding volumes and had all the hallmarks of a good old rousing nautical fiction tale but it relied too often on unlikely events and characters "knowing" what their adversary would do (on the basis that that is what they would do themselves).
I look forward to Peter Smalley writing more nautical fiction novels but suggest that he would be better off coming up with an entirely new set of characters and circumstances in the future rather than trying to push this series further. If you haven't read him, do buy "HMS Expedient" - but get the remaining books out of the library.