Lieutenant Guy Greville of HMS Dulcinea and the corvette’s diehard sailing captain, the Earl of Saxmundham, who cannot abide engines or engineers, were last met off East Africa in The Lion’s Claw.
Here they sail into a deeper mystery: arriving in Bombay, commercial capital of British India in the 1890s, they learn that one of the ships on the station, HMS Curlew, has disappeared without trace.
Greville meets the seductive wife of her captain and is smitten. Talking to her of her husband he gains the impression that the ship’s disappearance may not be accidental, and the search for the Curlew becomes an intellectual and emotional quest leading Greville via the profundities of Buddhist thought and chases at sea to the jungle-grown temples of the ‘lost cities’ of nineteenth century Ceylon.
This is a story told with all the pace and descriptive power that distinguishes the work of Peter Padfield.