Greenwood (Lakota Dreams, 2009, etc.) presents a tale of a murder, romance and classified operations at a naval facility (Navfac) in 1970.
One year from retirement, Lt. Commander Alex Wolfe finds himself posted at a Navfac on the coast of North Carolina. Wolfe is the watch officer, overseeing the tracking of Soviet subs, but his collateral duty also has him functioning as the base’s legal officer. He’s immediately assigned the task of searching for an AWOL sailor, whom readers have learned, by the third page, has been beaten to death. Greenwood’s narrative presents Wolfe’s story in the first person, occasionally interrupted by third-person passages focusing on a U.S. submarine crew undergoing a top secret mission. Greenwood eventually ties this subplot to an investigation into the sailor’s death, as well as two additional murders. Further third-person addendums relay information of which the protagonist is unaware, obstructing potential mystery and diminishing suspense, as Wolfe is rarely in jeopardy. Wolfe’s behaviors are sometimes contradictory. He woos a local named Kate—a young-adult approach in which he’s excited by a simple kiss and contemplates something “long term” after first meeting the woman, despite her initial withdrawn behavior. At the same time, Wolfe openly flirts with the captain’s wife and is more than willing to engage in a tryst with her. Likewise, the lieutenant commander is enraged when his captain expresses more interest in a softball game than the investigation, but he later gripes about having been placed in right field. The author’s strong point is the story’s structure. Though he doesn’t allow his metaphors to speak for themselves (explicitly comparing Kate, who works at a fishing store, to a fish), Greenwood’s narrative often reads like a report. Wolfe prides himself on avoiding military terms (saying “3 o’clock” in lieu of “1500 hours”), but his first-person perception is highly detailed, like an officer’s account, specifying his meals at restaurants and frequently describing the interactions with others more than including the actual dialogue. Such a structure makes for a reliable narrator, and it’s maintained throughout, all the way to the rational, convincingly open-ended conclusion.
In spite of the book’s unpolished prose, Greenwood’s methodical protagonist will hold readers’ attention.