RED SKY IN MORNING by Patrick Culhane


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Lackluster thriller follows a racially integrated Navy crew as it plies the Pacific during World War II.

Culhane (Black Hats, 2007), pseudonym for novelist-screenwriter-filmmaker Max Allen Collins, launches his predictable yarn with characters out of a dusty yearbook: Peter Maxwell, captain of the football team, and his sweetheart, Kay, head cheerleader, who has a “bubbly personality,” “fresh good looks” and a “Betty Grable figure that made a war worth fighting.” High-school prom king and queen, they make out at Miller’s Grove, Kay’s lips “a dab of Technicolor.” More clichés ensue. When war disrupts their Iowa idyll, Pete enlists in the Navy, where he links up with three from Central Casting: a Harvard WASP, a Jewish joke smith and a night-school engineering graduate of “mixed heritage,” “curly black hair” and “muscles on his muscles.” Eager for action, the quartet volunteers for duty aboard a ship whose cargo is in every way explosive: The USS Liberty Hill hauls ammunition and a crew made up mostly of blacks. A storm at sea, kamikaze attacks and unease among the crew, helmed by a bigoted white captain, threaten to destroy the ship. But Maxwell, who disdains segregation, deftly surmounts tensions. He bonds with seaman Ulysses Grant Washington (aka “Sarge”), a black ex-cop from south Chicago who shares Pete’s love of jazz. When someone slits the throats of the Harvard WASP and one of the black crewmembers, who is gay, Pete and Sarge search out the killer. The final third of the meandering narrative becomes a conventional murder mystery replete with a dark passageway. The men uncover the killer, whose identity and motives are rather apparent from the outset. Years later, Pete and Sarge, gray and paunchy, reunite at Sarge’s middle-class Chicago home with its “well-tended lawn” and “neatly trimmed evergreen bushes.”

Fodder for the bottom half of a 1940s double bill at the Bijou.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-089255-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2008