Third volume in the adventures of the redoubtable Tom Chatto (Apprentice to the Sea, 1993; Second Mate, 1996), who, having experienced the last days of sail and the early years of steam in the British merchant marine, now plunges headfirst into modern warfare, as the commander of a ship serving as a decoy in the Mediterranean in the early years of WW I, intended to lure German U-boats into the open. Few write as well as McCutchan about the specifics of wind and weather, and about the homely details of life aboard ship. His narratives have always placed some emphasis on character development, and there are some lively plot threads here involving the lives of Tom's clearly delineated crew. Tom himself remains a salty, appealing character, not a superhero but a man given to bouts of self-doubt, driven by a belief in duty and a continuing fascination with the lethal beauty of the sea. McCutchan's naval fiction (he's written a number of novels about British sailors at war) also stands out because of its emphasis on believable action--there are some first-rate descriptions of battles at sea here, and fascinating discussions of naval strategy. Altogether, a robust, lively narrative, refreshingly frank and convincing.