Douglas Reeman,
A Ship Must Die
(Arrow, 1980)

I truly enjoy the Bolitho novels by Alexander Kent. The truth is, however, Alexander Kent doesn't exist. He's a pseudonym for Douglas Reeman, a former navy man and a prolific author under his own name as well.

When I stumbled on one of his books -- a World War II adventure titled A Ship Must Die, I had to give it a try.

My first love is still the Age of Sail, when wooden ships fought under canvas and cannons belched smoke and iron at their foes. But the heroes of that age -- Hornblower, Aubrey, Ramage and Kent's own Bolitho, among others -- have a kindred spirit in Captain Richard Blake.

Blake commands HMS Andromeda, a worn-out battlecruiser with a noble history that is now, in January 1944, being transferred to the Australian navy. Blake has sailed her to Williamstown to cede control but, with a crew half his own and half inexperienced Australians, he is sent out on a final mission -- to find the German raider who is ruthlessly destroying merchant vessels and naval ships alike in the South Pacific.

The book is heavily populated with characters, many of whom aren't as well developed as I'd have liked, and the triangle involving Blake's ex-wife and new lover seems an unnecessary distraction. Likewise, there are two German captains I'd have liked to learn more about -- one, the more typical evil Nazi villain, the other a more honorable man who fights for his country, not its cause.

But Reeman knows how to describe tense situations, like a brief but telling scene on a lifeboat in open water, and his battle scenes are thrilling to say the least. The climactic battle is astonishing in its savagery -- in any age, this is a good naval tale.

book review by
Tom Knapp

3 January 2015

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