The Powder Keg is the third book in a series about the lesser known exploits of Admiral Lord Nelson before he became famous. Carefully researched by Jan Needle (James Albert Needle) who grew up in Portsmouth, England, an author with strong naval connections, the book is influenced by real letters and journals of the time but here recreated as belonging to Nelson’s fictitious friend and shipmate, Tim Hastie.
Centred on Nelson’s time on the ships Boreas and Albemarle and his adventures in peacetime (aged 22 – 35), mostly in the Caribbean with several periods of inactivity back in Norfolk, Bath, London, either recovering his health or begging the Admiralty for a new ship, this novella moves along quickly, sharing interesting details about Nelson’s family, rough life on the docks, his busyness patrolling the waters of the Caribbean for smugglers and privateers, glimpses of the life of royalty and the upper class of Barbados, and life aboard ship.
We also are shown the personal Nelson, a bit of a prig, desperate to be married yet totally lacking in the social skills required to woo a woman. Seeing regulations as black and white, Nelson stands up to authority in ways that made him unpopular with them, the islanders, and even his own crew. Without a war, he had no means to pursue the opportunity to serve with distinction he so craved and to thus make a name for himself. Ingratiating himself to Prince William, then commanding a ship in the same port as the prince, put him in awkward positions at times and out of favour with the King which became an obstacle in obtaining a new ship later on.
For people drawn to the charismatic legend of Admiral Lord Nelson, this is another side of the story which makes him more human but no less appealing. This book ends with the tantalizing prospect of another which will take Nelson to the Mediterranean where he meets Lord and Lady Hamilton. Looking forward to reading the others in this series. * * * *