Hickam sends his recurring hero, Josh Thurlow, to the World War II invasion of Tarawa and then off to an edenic atoll with a few stalwart troops and a complicated Irish nun who hopes he will carry out her own battle plan.
Introduced in The Keeper’s Son (2003), U.S. Coast Guard Captain Thurlow, sea-savvy native of the Outer Banks, operates independently under the mandate of Navy Secretary Frank Knox, sending back private reports and analyses providing the Secretary with unfiltered information on the successes and failures of the Navy’s mission. The invasion of Tarawa, with which this rouser begins, threatens to be a disaster of the first order. The American strategy of island hopping has brought the fleet to a low-lying string of islands well defended by Japanese troops prepared to fight to the death. The emperor’s forces have prepared earthworks that seem impervious to the Navy’s giant guns, and the day the Marines have picked for invasion is cursed by a tide that will send the invasion craft straight into murderous reefs. Thurlow, seeing that the Marines have no idea what they are getting into, joins the troops and is quickly involved in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. He, his fellow Outer Banksman Bosun Ready O’Neal and a handful of Marines make it out alive, spirited off to the islands of the Far Reaches. They have been rescued by a band of islanders led by Sister Mary Kathleen, who has already escaped the Japanese once and is dead set on going back to settle things with her former captors. When the outriggers land the little fleet on the Far Reaches, it takes no more than a few minutes for them to succumb to the charms of the islands and the islanders. But Sister Mary Kathleen, with whom O’Neal is hopelessly in love, will not let anyone forget her mission to invade the main island where she endured captivity and fell from grace.
Excellent war and, when the guns aren’t firing, equally fine peace.