The Contraband Shore

Written by David Donachie
Review by Nancy Henshaw

Royal Navy Captain Edward Brazier has reason to be pleased with life, even though he has no ship at present under his command. His prize money following the capture of a treasure ship has made him a rich man. With the nation at peace, he has leisure to further his serious courtship of Betsey Langridge. This delightful widow is almost at the end of her mourning period, and he is confident that their feelings are mutual: a strong and optimistic attraction. At present she has a home with her brother Henry Tulkington, and Edward will be well placed to visit Betsey from Deal, the nearby small coastal town.

He books into a local inn, unaware that the whole coastline is given over to smuggling operated by two gangs who are literally at daggers drawn. But more than each other they loathe the Revenue men who would interfere with their own expert tax avoidance. Edward, who wears the King’s uniform, is an object of intense suspicion leading to a brutal unprovoked attack—a warning to back off. Even worse, he is urged by the Prime Minister to act as a suicidally reckless government spy into the smugglers’ activities. And Betsey’s brother Henry, at first furiously hostile, has become unaccountably smarmy. What is going on?

It is a pleasure to read a novel so convincing in its detail, and the description of a complete smuggling operation (although aborted) shows expert planning and sharp-witted improvisation. Popular expensive luxuries involved are brandy, tobacco and tea, but how many readers will have known the tea was sewn inside the clothing of these enterprising villains?