Captain Jack Aubrey sails away from the brutal Australian prison colonies, returned to his favourite ship the Surprise
, but pondering on middle age and sexual frustration. Furthermore, he soon becomes aware that he is out of touch with the mood of his ship: to his astonishment he finds that in spite of a lifetime's experience he does not know what the foremast hands or even his own officers are thinking. They know, as he does not, that the Surprise
has a stranger aboard, but what they do not know is that the stranger is potentially as dangerous as lighting the powder magazine itself.
© Patrick O'Brian; (P)1999 HarperCollins UK