Debut novelist Aalund speculates what would have happened if Franklin D. Roosevelt had hushed up a sneak U-boat attack on New Orleans just days after America entered the war.
The daring German lieutenant commander Harald Gelting takes his submarine up the narrow channels and rivers to attack a secret petroleum refinery that is the first in the world to use catalytic cracking, now the mainstay of refineries everywhere. Nazi headquarters knows that if the plant goes into production, the U.S. will be able to significantly increase gasoline production. Fortunately for Gelting, copious diagrams and maps are available, courtesy of the German consul in New Orleans who spied on the states before war was declared. Not only must Lt. Cmdr. Gelting contend with dangerous shoals and shallows, but he faces opposition from his fanatical second-in-command, who suspects him of being a traitor. The mission becomes even more difficult when Gelting is forced to kidnap a woman who unwittingly walks into a rendezvous with a spy waiting to guide the U-boat to the plant’s location. The attack on the refinery goes ahead; but the situation gets more desperate, and Gelting hijacks the Canal Street Ferry and then tries to wriggle his boat through the disused Pass of the Otter channel. That’s when the real trouble starts. Aalund delves into historical side channels of his own about New Orleans, Europe, the U.S. and the French influence on the Southeast. As the action swings from Denmark and Norway to the Caribbean and beyond, the author highlights the absurdities of war, the grueling conditions faced by submarine crews and the moral dilemmas faced by U-boat captains when torpedoing civilian ships. Predictably, Lt. Cmdr. Gelting falls in love with a beautiful woman when on shore leave—their initial encounter (and other scenes involving women) are typical romantic fare. But the material on the workings of U-boats and life at sea brings that world to life.
A stout alternate history that relives the climate of World War II.