An affectionate if far from idolatrous look at “Canoe U” (midshipmanspeak for the US Naval Academy) as old salt Deutermann floats another seaworthy thriller.
Commencement is only weeks away. The “firsties”—the almost-ensigns (enswines, in midshipmanspeak)—are in countdown mode, seeing clear to the blessed end of a four-year mental/physical/emotional survival course. Julie Markham, smart, pretty, a three-striper, which means she’s among the best and the brightest in her graduating class, can’t imagine anything blurring the significance of throw-your-hat-in-the-air day. Then the unthinkable happens. A midshipman, a plebe, plunges to his death from a dormitory roof, wearing (pause) a pair of Julie’s panties. Darkside (midshipmanspeak for the Academy’s power structure) cringes. With scandal looming, ranks close, and the blue-and-gold spinmeisters go to work. As the obvious lesser evil, “jumped” is favored over “pushed,” a choice strenuously vouched for by the high command. Suddenly, however, there is unexpected resistance: maverick forces emerge and stubbornly rate truth over policy, unwilling to be reconciled to the idea of a cover-up. Jim Hall, the Academy’s upright security officer, forms an odd-couple, ad hoc alliance with beautiful brassy Special Agent Branner (her first name is her business, thank you very much), head of the Academy’s branch of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service. Risking their careers—and, as events prove, their lives—they seek a sociopathic killer the establishment would rather not have found. And what about Julie? She insists her relationship with the dead plebe was minimal, no more than the interaction predictable between members of the same swimming team. Unfortunately, for her and for all those with inconvenient and/or uncomfortable secrets, Hall and Branner become convinced that smart, pretty, best & brightest Julie is lying through her teeth.
A dead-on sense of place and appealing characters in tight corners. Once again, and with satisfying brio, the retired Navy captain (Hunting Season, 2001, etc.) writes what he knows.