Saturday, November 10, 2018

Book Reviews: 100 Fathoms Below

100 Fathoms Below
by Steven L. Kent and Nicholas Kaufmann
I recently heard about this new book co-authored by Nicholas Kaufmann, some of whose work was discussed here. I'm glad I decided to read it. This story uses a classic theme which for me never gets old. It's a locked room murder mystery with the twist that about halfway thru the book the remaining characters figure out the identity of the killer(s). It's always obvious to the reader because the authors give broad hints from the very beginning. This book mixes the supernatural with a military thriller. It worked well. It's just under 300 pages in hardcover. There's little wasted prose or expansive characterization of the various protagonists. The characters are not the stars here; the plot is. So if you're looking for deep character studies look elsewhere. It's not that kind of party. The characters are realistic but are only detailed enough to get the plot moving. 

In 1983 the US nuclear submarine USS Roanoke (and yes that is a nice little reference to the doomed English colony) embarks upon a classified mission. Unknown to everyone onboard except the captain and later his executive officer (XO), the Roanoke's mission is to enter Soviet territorial waters and obtain proof of an upgraded stealth Soviet submarine. This is very aggressive espionage and could be considered an act of war. The Roanoke is on its own. If detected the crewmen could be killed. If captured the men will likely be tortured or at best spend a few decades in Soviet prison camps. 

The Soviets could decide to start WW3 over the violation of their territorial waters. No one knows. As far the Roanoke's captain is concerned, the results of his mission aren't as important as completing the mission. 
Captain Weber has his orders. He will follow them. No one is going to be able to say he messed up and didn't follow orders.

Weber's XO, Lt. Commander Jefferson, is a hard charging ambitious man who is eager for his first submarine command. Completing this sensitive mission will guarantee a good reference from Captain Weber and a promotion when the next slot becomes available. The Navy runs on an up or out model. Officers have a limited time period and number of chances to make their next rank before their naval career ends.
Jefferson doesn't intend to let that happen to him. He's not part of the old boys' network. He must be twice as good to get noticed. There are plenty of other officers who might be happy to see Jefferson fail. Weber keeps himself apart from his sailors a bit while Jefferson is more hands-on but both men care deeply about the Navy and their submarine.

Although the sailors don't know their mission's true purpose they do know that it will be at least ninety days. That's three months or more without fresh air, room to walk and stretch, sunlight, individual beds, luxurious showers, or basic privacy. Submarine life is not for people with claustrophobia. There is no wasted space on a submarine. Whatever can be is recycled or shared. Every man's job is critical. No one likes being underwater for a long time. But what is most intolerable to one Warren Stubic is three months without the company of women. Not looking forward to this enforced abstinence, Petty Officer Stubic decides that if nothing else he's going to have some good memories of his final night before the three month voyage.
Lacking the confidence, looks, skill, or time to pursue and enjoy a mutually satisfying encounter with a female tourist or local woman, Stubic heads to a brothel. Well Stubic doesn't get what he thought he was going to get. 

Stubic wakes up sick, with a headache, fever and no memory of what happened at the brothel. But orders are orders. He'll be in trouble if he can't serve or must admit his brothel visit. So Stubic reports for duty even though he's noticeably ill. Well something evil is on the submarine now, something that intends to spread itself. There are some subplots concerning another sailor forced to choose between following orders and doing the right thing, the aforementioned XO's battles against bigotry, and two Cajun brothers who are among the first to accept the impossible. The authors apparently did their research about the rigors of submarine life and the physics of underwater pressure. Some of this I knew, much of it I didn't. 

As pointed out many times during the story, there's no jumping overboard or other means of escape from a breached submerged submarine. One weak link and everybody drowns, or is incinerated by pressurized air heated to incandescence, or is instantaneously crushed to death in an imploding can. Physics is unforgiving. 

There is a skillful ratcheting up of tension as the men confront something inconceivable while attempting to avoid Soviet sonar and complete their mission. This book has some gore but I didn't find it excessive for action/horror stories. The violence is mostly off page, until the final third of the book. This is a good comfort read, something that you can finish quickly. I put down another book to finish this. If you like fast moving thrillers/mysteries/horror give this a read. My only gripe was that the book's binding was not that great. I don't have any other books from this publisher for comparison. Maybe I just got a bad copy.
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