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The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O'Brian

The Reverse of the Medal (original 1986; edition 1987)

by Patrick O'Brian

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Title:The Reverse of the Medal
Authors:Patrick O'Brian
Info:Fontana Press (1987), Paperback, 256 pages
Tags:fiction, Naval History, O'Brian

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The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O'Brian (1986)

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In which, the Surprise has perhaps one final opportunity to demonstrate her honour, before sold into salvage. Aubrey meets ashore an emissary to France for His Majesty, bearing news and a rare opportunity; Maturin devises with Blaine a trap for the suspected mole, leaving marked currency with Wray & Barrow. Both scenarios play into bigger schemes than are expected.


Mowett's poetry has found a publisher, though Stephen suspects a swindle. Martin publishes a pamphlet on immorality in the navy, effectively ending his career as naval chaplain; apparently never thought to consult Stephen on it, knowing he'd agree with the moral sentiments. Duhamel returns the Blue Peter, and fingers Palmer, Wray, and "Smith" as agents of Lucan, in return for passage to Canada aboard HMS Eurydice, courtesy of Henneage Dundas.

Stephen's godfather provides a means of rescue for dear Surprise. Stephen himself wipes the nose of a petty bureaucrat, and avoids the snares of one Madame de La Feullade. Mentions a "lost page" from Gibbon's Decline and Fall, pulled at page-proof stage to avoid offending friends at bar & bench. Much less botanising this time round.

At tale's open, Jack meets for the first time Samuel Panda, his son by Sally Mputa, the woman whom he kept aboard HMS Resolution, and for which he was disrated. At the close, he sits in Marshalsea awaiting trial for Stock Exchange fraud (an incidental victim of a Tory plot against Gen Aubrey and the Radicals). Sentenced to be pilloried but saved from public abuse with the roused indignation of seamen and naval officers.

In effect Part One of a miniseries-within-a-series, comprising with the next volume a fulcrum in Jack's and Stephen's joint career: each is separated -- body and spirit -- from an institution dear to his sense of self. Jack is formally dismissed the service, and though still very much involved in Admiralty plans (both naval and intelligence) the lost status is crucial. Stephen finds Diana has left for Sweden, seemingly in reprisal for a perceived and unforgivable indiscretion.

Stephen purchases Surprise, and obtains from Sir Joseph letters of marque and reprisal against several nations, in advance of a proposed intelligence mission to Chile and Peru.


No interior map in this installment, the endpapers are of London and the Thames: Jack's and Stephen's private clubs off Piccadilly, the Royal Society and Liberties, Parliament and the Admiralty, King's Bench and Marshalsea prisons. ( )
  elenchus | Jun 22, 2015 |
Another good 'un from O'Brian, this volume with a little bit of everything: espionage, conspiracies, sea battles, natural history ... it's so easy to just sit down with one of these books and lose a few hours; I recommend it highly. ( )
  JBD1 | Apr 28, 2012 |
Jack just can't get a break! He's too naive for his own good when it comes to living on shore and he pays for it on a large scale when he gets caught up in political maneuvering. A majority of the action happens on shore, which is a nice change. I loved the scene where Jack and his crew undertake to make Ashford Cottage shipshape. I can just imagine the scene! And I wish I had my own crew to come do the same to mine! ( )
  tjsjohanna | Mar 31, 2011 |
Someone mentions Jack Aubrey and at once you think of sea battles and naval history, you may not think of Stock Exchange frauds and court cases, but that is exactly what we have here. Of course there is some sea action, this book takes up after Master and Commander, so even if you only saw the film you have a rough idea of what to expect.. Aubrey and the crew of the Surprise have been off protecting whalers and most of this book is set either on their way home, or back in England. Jack has problems of his own, a young black catholic man who has a remarkable similarity to Jack turns up, but Stephen isn’t carefree either. His wife appears to have left him, and there is trouble in the intelligence agency. But I don’t really read these books for the plot. I read them because of the way they are written, the characters that shine and the wonderful language. It is also interesting the way Jack notes that the colourful coats he’s used to are no longer fashionable. More and more fashion calls for black coats. Well, maybe you don’t find that interesting, but I did. Plus, the more I read around this whole general time period the more I enjoy these books. Phrases I read in Heyer’s books turn up here too, things “don’t signify.” ) A saying I now intend to use all the time, so be prepared. I particularly liked Jack’s unshakable belief in the English justice system, his absolute knowledge that once he tells the jury the truth nothin could possibly go wrong. Not to mention Stephen’s attempts to dissuade him of this notion: “They are men who tend to resign their own conscience to another’s keeping, or to disregard it entirely. To the question ‘what are you’re sentiments when you are asked to defend a man you know to be quilty?’ many will reply ‘I do not know to be guilty until the judge, who has heard both sides, states that he is guilty.’ … standing up in a court for which ever side has paid upi, affecting warmth and conviction, and doing everything you can to win the case, whatever your private opinion may be, will soon dull any fine sense of honour. The mercenary soldier is not a valued creature, but at least he risks his life, whereas these men merely risk their next fee.” ( )
  Fence | Mar 11, 2010 |
This is the first review I have written for a Patrick O'Brian novel, having read the prior Aubrey-Maturin books before getting into LibraryThing, so this is in some ways a review of the whole series. This makes it even harder to put into words quite how staggeringly brilliant these books are; a sense heightened by the Reverse of the Medal, as its final pages bring a crescendo of emotion and meaning which can only be appreciated once you have the first ten novels under your belt. That such careful, (impeccably) mannered prose can move you so much is testament to the deep bond that you, as reader, share with the characters, who are sketched in with such deftness that their every movement and thought are utterly believable, consistent, and thus a pleasure.

I can't really do justice to the depth and subtlety of this work, so I'm just going to gibber for a bit. ( )
  gbsallery | Mar 1, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patrick O'Brianprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hunt, GeoffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tull, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The West Indies squadron lay off Bridgetown, sheltered from the north-east tradewind and basking in the brilliant sun.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393309606, Paperback)

Ashore between cruises, Captain Jack Aubrey is persuaded to sink some money into an investment scheme. Soon this innocent decision enmeshes him in various criminal and even treasonous enterprises, which threaten to destroy his entire career. Bad luck? A deliberate plot? Read this latest installment of the Aubrey-Maturin saga to find out.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:51 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

When Jack Aubrey makes some bad investments which involve him with the London underworld, he must rely on Stephen Maturin, an intelligence officer on his ship, to get him out of trouble.

(summary from another edition)

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2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393309606, 0393037118

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