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Some readers may quibble at the ambiguous ending, but Cornwell's first modern-day novel, after Redcoat and the Sharpe series, works very nicely. Narrator Nick Sandman, Falkland Islands hero and Victoria Cross recipient, is determined not only to walk again after a war wound but also to sail his ketch Sycorax to New Zealand. After two years' hospitalization, he is, barely, walking again, but Nick's return to Devon finds Sycorax beached and vandalized, apparently at the behest of TV talk-show host Tony Bannister. Legal difficulties force Nick into making a TV movie for Bannister in exchange for salvaging Sycorax. Complications arise immediately: Bannister is out to win the Cherbourg-Saint Pierre race and wants Nick to be navigator; Bannister's ex-father-in-law is out to avenge his daughter's ''murder'' aboard Bannister's ocean racer Wildtrack and wants Nick to help; Bannister's beautiful mistress Angela is out to make that TV movie; and Nick falls in love with Angela. The climax comes with Nick racing across the Atlantic in a howling gale to prevent Bannister's murder. Even landlubbers will enjoy Cornwell's terrific pacing, colorful characters and dry humor, and perhaps, will learn a few things, too (e.g., in sailing jargon, ''scuttles'' means portholes).