An enormous, robust, but somewhat scatterbrained first novel about naval espionage prior to America's entrance into World War I. England is already at war with Germany, and President Woodrow Wilson, a devout non-interventionist, wants the assurance of his closest adviser, Colonel House, that the threat of being outclassed by the British navy will not drive Germany into a booming upsurge of submarine warfare, thus endangering American merchant ships which are bringing aid to Britain. So two American naval officers are sent abroad as ""observers,"" one to sail with the British navy and one with the German, odd as this may sound. Commander Harris Maltbie sails with the British, is wounded during a victory at sea, and falls in love with Melina, a niece of the British ambassador: She manhandles Harry into marrying her (she's sensual), almost dies when the Lusitania is sunk by a German sub, and turns nasty when her sensuality must go unassuaged while Harry spies. Meanwhile, Commander Benjamin Gehlman, rich, Jewish, and looked down upon by fellow officers, goes to Germany where he is housed by a lusty countess (she's sensual too) and her husband--a kinky colonel whose only kicks are bathing his nine-year-old stepdaughter Alis. When the countess is murdered by the colonel, Ben runs off to America with Alis, with the colonel in pursuit. Ben and Alis at last are taken in by Harry and Melina, and Ben sublimates his erotic passion for Alis in an adulterous affair with Melina. Eventually, she's killed by the colonel, and Harry loses his life saving Ben's. A basically sound story with appropriately dense wartime detail--but the preoccupation with kinky sex and the contrived guest appearances by a slew of historical figures are distracting; simpler and shorter would have been better, but, as it is, a lively, messy action/melodrama debut.