Gidley's robust storytelling and his delight in savagely skewed personalities, which paced his topnotch dynasty novel, The River Running By (1982), are in full rumble here--in a grand broadside at the elitism and fat-headedness of the alluring British Navy tradition. (Gidley himself served, 1954-80.) Lower-deck officer Frank Jannaway becomes a Navy hero only after his bizarre death, leaving a family legacy of bitterness--compounded by wife Dora's posthumous discovery of Frank's infidelity and her guilt over accidentally causing the semi-paralysis of bright son Alan. So younger son Steve Jannaway, following Alan's unattainable dream of joining the Navy, will enter training at 16--becoming a laggard non-conformist at the Naval College (""Shag""), unable to shake the thought that the whole officer-building business is ""a fancy dress charade."" Still, to enter that ""most exclusive club,"" Steve acquires a ""streak of ruthlessness,"" the necessary mannerisms and social graces--along with his fellow cadets: Peter Lansbury, a model officer, handsomely tailored; and cherubic little David Braddle, frail last twig in a famous family of naval Braddles, seduced by Peter (with tragic consequences). Meanwhile, throughout his early sub-lieutenant career on a minesweeper (a cheerful mix of fudging, faking, growing competence, and boozy camaraderie), Steve is deeply in love with music teacher Catherine. But later, when Steve is Peter's Number One aboard a destroyer in Malta, he's ensnared by David's sexually ferocious sister Julietta--who's been rejected (she can't understand why) by Peter: a fevered, increasingly hostile marriage is the result. And, through Steve's subsequent naval career, he'll find himself lost somewhere between the ""quintessential shag"" (as only Catherine saw him) and the conforming outward self with a ""carefully nurtured naval accent"": his outspoken criticism of Naval policies ultimately greases his downward slide while Julietta divorces the ""big Catholic dog"" who now so revolts her--but Steve will ultimately recover his son, bis love for brother Alan, and his ""soul."" With a cargo of domestic hornets, first-class naval savvy (always lively and accessible), anti-Establishment cannonades, and romantic fireworks: a good show even for landlubbers, and perhaps the book of the decade for Angiophilic naval buffs.