Thursday, May 14, 2009


Hornblower During the Crisis (1967), also known as Hornblower and the Crisis, is the last Hornblower novel C. S. Forester worked on – he died before he finished it. It fits fourth in the chronology. The book also includes two short stories, “Hornblower’s Temptation” (also known as “Hornblower and the Widow McCool,” and “The Last Encounter.”

In Hornblower During the Crisis, Horatio Hornblower, promoted to captain before the age of thirty, is relieved of command of Hotspur and sent back to England. But almost immediately, Hotspur’s new captain sinks the ship. Hornblower is called upon to testify at his court martial, after which all the officers travel back to England on a water ship. They encounter a French brigantine, and Hornblower recovers important French documents. He works with the Secretary of the Navy to craft a plan to deliver forged orders to Villeneuve, the French admiral.

In “Hornblower’s Temptation,” Lieutenant Hornblower, serving on the Renown under Captain Sawyer, is responsible for arranging the execution of a deserter, an Irish revolutionary. In “The Last Encounter,” Hornblower, now 72, wealthy, retired and still as self-loathing as ever, is visited by a man claiming to be Napoleon Bonaparte, who insists he needs Hornblower’s help to get to Paris immediately. Both stories are entertaining enough, although the chest gimmickry in “Hornblower’s Temptation” is a bit much. “The Last Encounter” is noteworthy because it is Forester’s final Hornblower chapter.

There are 130-150 pages of Hornblower During the Crisis, depending on how the publisher formats it, which comprises half the novel or less. Where there narrative concludes, there is a one-page summary compiled from Forester’s notes. Nothing unexpected happens – Hornblower has a crisis of conscience, his sense of duty prevails, as always, and his mission is a wonderful success, culminating in the Battle of Trafalgar.

There is certainly a lot of potential in Forester’s storyline, but all the reader gets is setup. Hornblower in the shady business of espionage is the perfect opportunity for him to wallow in a moral crisis, and Forester was clearly building toward the drama of the constant threat of hideous death for spies, but unfortunately, we never get that far.

Forester once again dangles Hornblower’s promotion in front of him, threatening to take it away before it’s been confirmed. But Forester has gone to that well already. It doesn’t generate any suspense, and it just feels tawdry on Forester’s part.

Hornblower During the Crisis is for Hornblower completists – it adds nothing significant to Hornblower’s overall story arc. It has its moments, but it can easily be skipped.