Rapscallion is the third in this series featuring Matthew Hawkwood, but I have not read the previous two. Hawkwood, a Bow Street Runner, has received an undercover assignment to the British Navy. Two Navy lieutenants have gone missing while investigating a smuggling ring aiding the escape of French prisoners of war.
Hawkwood is given the identity of a captured American who has joined Napoleon's army. As he speaks French, he will be able to discover more information about the escapes and the missing Navy men. His assignment puts him close to Paul Lasseur, a French privateer and fellow prisoner. The two men attempt to negotiate the horrors of the prison hulk (an older ship, no longer seaworthy, that functions as a prison).
Hawkwood's respect and liking for Lasseur grows as they both suffer the indignities and hardships of prisoners of a war, and Lasseur is a likable and competent individual with definite sympathies for the underdog.
What is most fascinating are the descriptions of conditions aboard the hulk. Even as I read, I was thinking, "Can this be true? Were the conditions this awful?" I knew I'd be researching this when I finished the book, but the author included a section at the end that gave the resources for his descriptions saving me some trouble.
McGee's historic research was also fascinating in the area of smuggling, especially in connection with the town of Deal, a legendary smugglers' haunt, and the information about guinea boats.
The novel gives a wealth of historic atmosphere and some thrilling action. The characters are well-drawn and the plot kept me involved. I don't know what I expected from this novel, but it delivered much more for someone who loves historic detail. Hawkwood is an interesting character, but Paul Lasseur (Hawkwood's erstwhile enemy and present friend) is worthy of a novel of his own.
Net Galley/Open Road Int. Media/Pegasus Books.
Historical Fiction/Adventure. Orig. published 2009. Re-release May 7, 2013. Print version 464 pages.