Edition: Michael Joseph, 1952
Review number: 101
As indicated by the rank in the title, this is one of the earlier Hornblower novels. Fairly unusually for this series, it is told from the point of view of William Bush, beginning from their first meeting. This occurs when Bush is posted to the ship on which Hornblower is serving as third lieutenant, to become fourth when Bush arrives as his commission is of an earlier date.
It soon becomes clear that something is very wrong about the ship, and that the mind of Captain Sawyer is not what it should be. He suffers from paranoid fantasies about his officers, particularly Hornblower and the first lieutenant. These reach the point where there are discussions about declaring the captain unfit for command, but at this point he falls down a hatchway and is confined to a sickbed. (Hornblower and one of the midshipmen also victimised by the captain are the only witnesses, causing private speculation among the other officers that the fall was not wholly accidental.)
The most important aspect of the book, for itself as well as for the remainder of the series, is the establishing of the relationship between Hornblower and Bush. Although there are moments of the thriller about the book, the early days of this relationship is the focus; this is what raises this book above the run-of-the-mill. There is excitement when the ship reaches the Caribbean, and tension created by the captain's illness.