Smalley has been hailed as the heir to those great writers of naval historical fiction, Patrick O’Brian and C.S. Forester. I agree. The Hawk is the second of his books I’ve read, fourth in the series, and another rip-roaring adventure.
In 1790 Lieutenant James Hayter, despite the failure of the Rabhet expedition (as told in book three) is given his first command, the 10-gun cutter, The Hawk. His task is to prevent smugglers and spies from crossing the Channel. The only thing spoiling his enjoyment is the ‘beaching’ of his friend and old captain, William Rennie, or so Hayter thinks. Rennie is held responsible for the failure of the Rabhet expedition. Once spymaster Sir Robert Greer appears, readers know the problems are about to start. And they do. The seemingly simple task of capturing a renegade captain and his cutter turns into life-and-death drama, poor Rennie suffering most dishonourably.
Smalley has a good ear for dialogue, a thorough understanding of the class system, and a delightful way of adding historical colour without hitting readers on the head with an information dump. He has created an 18th-century world in a way that rings true for this reader. Smalley writes so well that each book stands alone and can be read without reading the others. I wouldn’t, though. Highly recommended, even for those who are not fans of naval fiction, just for the pleasure of reading a well-written historical novel.