The Richard Delancey series, by C. Northcote Parkinson

Cyril Northcote Parkinson

Historical fiction (the Richard Delancey series):

Other nautical fiction
  • Manhunt (1990)
Other fiction
  • Ponies Plot (1965)

Cyril Northcote Parkinson pursued a distinguished academic career. He first became famous for "Parkinson's Law" - that work expands to fill the time allotted to it. He wrote a number of books on British politics and economics. His first fictional effort, a "biography" of Horatio Hornblower, met with considerable acclaim and led to the Delancey series. C. Northcote Parkinson died in 1993.

Many readers are perhaps more familiar with the Northcote Parkinson’s books on management: the most well known is Parkinson's Law (a very interesting book), which draws to some extent on empirical examples from the British military bureaucracy. However, Northcote Parkinson has also written several fiction novels. His novels in the series about Richard Delancey, Royal Navy, are well known among readers of naval fiction. They are actually very interesting to read, as the author has extensive historical knowledge and writes very well. There are six books in this series, all very well worth reading.

Richard Delancey, unlike the heroes of some other book series in this genre, such as C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower, Alexander Kent's Bolitho, and Dudley Pope's Ramage, has difficulty getting promoted even when he clearly deserves it. He does not have anybody promoting his career, and little means of his own. He has to get ahead by skills and courage alone.

Praise for the Richard Delancey series:

"Authentic naval adventure…full of action." -- Sunday Times

"The sharp tang of powder, tar, and sea along with the boom of cannon and shouts of men in battle." -- Dallas Morning News

"[Parkinson’s] knowledge of the naval world . . . was encyclopaedic; his understanding of ships, seamen, of politics, strategy and trade almost unrivalled." -- David Powell, 20th Century Romance and Historical Writers

"Authentic naval adventure full of action." -- Sunday Times

Devil to Pay, by C. Northcote Parkinson

Devil to Pay is the first book published - but the second in chronological order - in the series about Richard Delancey. It was first published in 1973. The action in this book takesDevil to Pay, by C. Northcote Parkinson place more than 10 years after the action in book 1, The Guernseyman. Richard Delancey is a lieutenant assigned to the Grafton, a hulk at permanent anchor.

Richard Delancey has had an undistinguished naval career, but he possesses a fluency in French that lands him a secret mission for the Admiralty. Through no fault of his own, the secret mission further tarnishes his reputation and prospects. It leads to a duel. Thus Delancey is once again casting about for fresh opportunity.

Seeking opportunity, he becomes involved in customs collection on the Isle of Wight, with a temporary command of a Revenue Service cutter. Doing this, he is very successful. As a result, he is given command of the 22-gun privateer Nemesis. This provides Delancey with opportunities for profit, and we follow him in several daring naval operations. He is a successful privateer commander. However, misfortune leaves him shipwrecked on the French coast. He attempts to escape through Spain, just as the Spanish are entering the war. The last part of the novel covers his flight through Spain, and action in Leon as he rejoins the Royal Navy.

Devil to Pay has lots of action, both on land and at sea. It is well written, and Richard Delancey is an interesting character that gets ahead by hard work and sound analytical thinking. I like this book and the series a lot, and do not hesitate to recommend it.

The Fireship, by C. Northcote Parkinson

Richard Delancey becomes second lieutenant aboard the Glatton, a 50 gun ship fitted with an experimental armament of The Fireship, by C. Northcote Parkinson all large caliber carronades, when she is taken over by mutineers in the mutiny at the Nore. Towards the end of the mutiny, he is witness to a fellow officer shooting one of the ring leaders. In the subsequent court martial, Acting First Lieutenant Richard Delancey acts as defense council for his fellow officer, and very smartly devises an original legal defense to help free him.

A little later he misses the general promotion of all in his rank after the victory at Camperdown when his captain bypasses him for the man he replaced. Delancey is very bitter, but receives command of a fireship. Even in this state of mind, he recognizes that he must make the most of this opportunity, and goes on to research the history of fireships and their uses in naval warfare.

During an attempted French invasion of Ireland, a French ship of the line runs aground, and Delancey finds himself with a unique opportunity to use his fireship the way she was intended to be used.

The story in The Fireship is very well researched and provides a detailed and very interesting look at the British navy and the life of a lieutenant. It is told in a quiet, factual form, and contains lots of action. I liked it very much. The series about Richard Delancey is more or less a “must read” for fans of historical fiction!


Touch and Go, by C. Northcote Parkinson

Richard Delancey has been called a “worthy successor to Horatio Hornblower”. I am not quite certain that this is true – but the Richard Delancey series is very good and well Touch and Go, C. Northcote Parkinson researched. Touch and Go is the fourth novel, chronologically speaking, in the series. The first, The Guernseyman, was the beginning of his career in the Royal Navy. The next two covered his service as a lieutenant. This present novel starts with his promotion to command the sloop Merlin. It takes place in 1799.

Merlin is assigned convoy duty. However, she is a ship in need of discipline and training, and Delancey, being methodical and systematic of nature, sets about to do that. He is a good leader and has the ability to analyze weaknesses and strengths, and is soon able to turn the ship around. Soon he is able to show the improvements as well, when the ship captures an enemy ship during the siege of Vallette.

Later Delancey has a brief encounter with Commander Lord Cochrane as well as a trip to a slave market on the North African coast where he buys a slave girl. He arrives in Gibraltar in time to participate in Rear Admiral Sir James Saumarez' attack on the combined French and Spanish fleets 1801, an action in which he distinguishes himself.

Finally, as peace is on the horizon and he is being sent home to England, Delancey devices a scheme designed to make him some extra price money with help from his smuggler friend Sam Carter. He knows of a rich prize, and even has a plan for capturing it. The question is whether he will be able to do it in time, before peace breaks loose?

I liked this book a lot. It has lots of action and interesting descriptions of the Navy and the large battles Delancey are involved in. Recommended!