In 1794 war with France gives Lt Richard Delancey his first active duty since the American Revolution. Delancey's previous naval career was undistiguished. He has no naval mentors, so he is pleased that his knowledge of French, gained through being a native of Guernsey, has lead to him to called on for a special mission landing secret agents in France.
Through no fault of his own, the secret mission further tarnishes his reputation and prospects. It leads to a duel. Reduced to his half-pay Delancey is ready to seize any opportunity.
A chance encounter leads to Delancey learning that the Captain of a customs vessel has been injured. He seizes his chance! He decides that if he carries the news to the Customs Collector for the Isle of Wight he may receive an interim appointment to replace the injured man.
It is not a great opportunity. His acting command only has a crew of 20. And his only hope of remuneration lies in figuring out how to outsmart the wily sm! ugglers. But at least he is at sea.
Delancey's brief experience in the world of intelligence pays off. He has first one, then two, then three early successes. Delancey's confidence returns. He has mastered this task sufficiently well that he realizes that the owners of the smuggling vessels will take steps to keep their vessels out of his grasp. Perhaps they will send them to other parts of the coast?
No, instead he is offered a much better job by a gentleman he suspects owns several smuggling vessels. He is offered the command of a private man of war, the 22 gun Nemisis, based in his home town of St Peter's Port.
Delancey has further adventures aboard the Nemesis, and ashore in France and Spain.
I'll close this review with two comments. I know of no other novel of this period that deal with the nautical aspect of collecting customs duty. I regret that this novel lay out of print for such a long time.