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A group of stories provides military melodrama and trouble galore.  

Dedicated to “those in peril on the sea,” Hess’ (Unloaded, 2016, etc.) atmospheric and moody collection of 16 war-themed tales offers characters who find plenty of danger all on their own. The impressive title story, which takes place aboard the USS San Jacinto, seems drawn straight from a fictional Navy man’s journal. The first-person narration brings readers to the battle stations of a ship at the mercy of storms, death, and long months at sea yet concludes with a homecoming saluting the fierce allegiance, pride, and American patriotism of the armed forces. When two shipmates quarrel in the striking tale “Last Battle Aboard the Old Pro,” the outcome is violent and unexpected. Through authentic dialogue and jagged details, Hess’ stories become effective snapshots of military life, including its unsavory aspects as well as the provocative ones. This occurs best in the daring, crass, sexually charged game of “Smiles” enjoyed among randy crewmates docked on Philippine soil, where a soldier preparing to leave on honorable discharge winds up dissatisfied with the prostitutes who shimmy around him “as if they are sandwiches in a vending machine.” Elsewhere, the unpredictable chaos of military duty dominates: ships are tossed around amid rough seas; death saturates a Navy crew with the mere unlatching of a watertight engine room hatch; and the unforeseen suicide of a lieutenant discovered by a smitten soldier in “Here Today, Guam Tomorrow” proves a painful coda to a hardscrabble story about finding human connections on the Pacific island. The physical and mental fallout from war for soldiers is palpable in less contemporary tales like “Strong to Save,” set in 1949, and the racially charged “Attention on Deck,” in which a white Navy man in 1972 witnesses hate and anger from a group of black sailors eager to settle the score. Tension is at its highest in the exhilarating “Cash for G_d,” in which a desperate ex–Navy sailor holds up a grocery store at gunpoint, with the result ending up much bloodier than he’d anticipated. Cohesively rough and edgy, Hess’ heady volume should appeal to fans of military suspense as well as readers who want a generous slice of hardened Navy SEAL action stocked with grizzly servicemen doing the best they can. 

With his finger firmly placed on soldiers’ wartime experiences, the author delivers a potent, thrilling collection of sharply drawn tales.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-943402-82-3
Page count: 292pp
Publisher: Down & Out Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2017