In the spring of 1802 Richard Bolitho is summoned to the Admiralty in London and given his orders for a difficult and, to him, distasteful task. Even an advanced promotion to vice-admiral to make him one of the youngest ever appointed does not compensate for his sudden and thankless mission. Bolitho and his wife are expecting their first child, and for once he is loath to quit the land for the demands of duty. The Peace of Amiens, signed a few weeks earlier, is already showing signs of strain as the old enemies wrangle over the return of colonial possessions won and lost during the war. In the little sixty-four-gun Achates Bolitho sails West for Boston, and thence to the Caribbean where he must hand over the island of San Felipe to the French. Bolitho discovers that to be a man of diplomacy is not enough, and as threat and counter-threat weave a web of intrigue around his lonely command he balances success against the danger to the men who must follow him even to the cannon's mouth.