Splice the Main Brace

I HAVE been planning for some time to write a Recommended Reading column about Patrick O'Brian's "Jack Aubrey" novels, but procrastination set in and now Jonathan Yardley has introduced Aubrey to Washington in his review of The Letter of Marque (Book World, Aug. 26). Still, there are one or two things about O'Brian's nautical series that should be noted.

First of all, The Letter of Marque is not the third title of the series, but the 12th. Only the first five books were published in the United States (by three different publishers); the rest are available only in Britain. A 13th installment, The Thirteen Gun Salute, was published in 1989, and one hopes it will show up in the United States soon.

O'Brian, in his preface to the first novel in the series, wrote that he had chosen a number of historical naval actions as the basis for his fictional characters' adventures; and anyone with some familiarity with the history of the Royal Navy of the period (the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon and the War of 1812) will recognize that the first two novels, and at least one of the later ones -- the 11th, The Reverse of the Medal -- are based on incidents in the life of Adm. Lord Cochrane. Yardley is certainly correct when he says that O'Brian stresses characterization and conversation in his novels; readers who followed the long and colorful careers of Jack Aubrey and his shipmate Stephan Maturin have seen a friendship grow between two extraordinarily dissimilar personalities. While O'Brian does not wallow in the broadsides-and-boarders side of the business, no one who has read other books in the series would say that O'Brian fails to give the reader plenty of action. He even throws in two battles with the U.S. Navy (Aubrey and Maturin are taken prisoner by "Old Ironsides" after the surrender of H.M.S. Java in Fortune of War).

The complete list of O'Brian's "Jack Aubrey" series is Master and Commander (Norton paperback), Post Captain (Norton paperback), H.M.S. Surprise, Desolation Island (Scarborough House paperback), The Mauritius Command (Scarborough House paperback), The Ionian Mission, Treason's Harbour, The Far Side of the World (Fontana/Parkhurst paperback), Fortune of War, The Surgeon's Mate, The Reverse of the Medal, The Letter of Marque (Norton hardcover) and The Thirteen Gun Salute.

C.S. Forester may be gone, and that is a pity, but Patrick O'Brian is a worthy heir. MICHAEL A. HOVLAND Suitland

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