Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.


After a long hard day sightseeing in Barcelona we returned to our rented apartment near Las Ramblas and collapsed. It was too early to go out for dinner, this being Spain. Besides, we were exhausted.

"How about a movie?" I asked. I looked at the NetFlix envelopes I'd forgotten to drop back home -- Ed Wood and Volume 3 of Horatio Hornblower.

Ed Wood wouldn't show on the TV. It was a region 1 DVD and this, after all, was Spain. But hey, the Horatio Hornblower DVD was multi-region! So we sat and drank wine and watched Horatio do his thing.

Afterwards, I said, "I know what to do tomorrow -- I want to spend the day touring the Barcelona Maritime Museum!" And that's what I did. While Wife and Number One Son shopped, I toured the Museum. What a museum! If you are interested in seafaring, this is the one to see.

I ended up at the end of the day in the Gift Shop. There I saw a table full of Spanish language books by Alexander Kent. They were translations of a series of novels about sailing ships and naval warfare , and I had never heard about "Alexander Kent." I wrote his name down in my trip journal.

When I returned to the U.S. I logged onto Amazon. To my surprise I discovered an entire series of Alexander Kent 18th century naval warfare novels I'd been totally ignorant of. Since I'd already read all of Forester's Hornblower novels, this seemed too good to be true! So I ordered a copy of the first in the series, "Midshipman Bolitho."

Let's be honest: Bolitho is no Hornblower, and Kent is no Forester. Kent describes shipboard life well, and he knows how to write action. But his characters are not particularly well described, and his comparative lack of physical description makes it difficult to keep track of them especially at the beginning. Kent is just not a vivid writer.

But I do intend to try some more books in the series. There's something very appealing about the experiences of sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially when you realize how important navies were to the imperial goals of European governments at the time. And periodically the reader learns something when reading books like this, such as how slavery was a component of trading economies of supposedly civilized countries, and how British citizens sympathetic to the American Colonies were, after all, traitors to the Crown.

I'm glad I decided to go to that museum in Barcelona!

Arturo Pérez-Reverte's THE FENCING MASTER