A solid, Arctic-set technothriller in which a cold war—cold as icebergs—breaks out when a pair of inimical subs (one US, one Russian) take each other on.
Oh, that Baikal! Not only is the Russian sub humungous—big as an aircraft carrier—but it’s supposed to be defunct. Originally, six Typhoon class submersibles, Baikal and her sisters, were built by the Russians, their number steadily diminished by a variety of mishaps. And then there was one, which the US paid the Russians to scrap. “Those son of bitches took our money and kept the boat,” fumes the captain of the U.S.S Portland, the sleek nuclear sub that suddenly comes upon this formidable monster. In an act both rash and characteristic, Commander James Vann decides to pursue the Baikal and blow it out of the water if he can—never mind the very real risk of WWIII. Fortunately, there are some cooler heads on the Portland, belonging to Lieutenant Commander Willy Steadman, Vann’s exec, and Senior Chief Jerome Browne, the very model of a seasoned, savvy career enlisted man. Also on board , for the first time in US submarine history, is a woman: the pretty, plucky, and cool-headed Lieutenant Rose Scavullo, a crack Russian translator. Vann hates everything about her, including the aroma that stems from soap a tad more delicate than standard issue. Most of all, however, he hates the fact of her: an alien presence, he decrees, on what was obviously meant to be an all-boys bastion. Vann’s hunt for red Baikal persists, growing ever more obsessive until, it becomes clear to Steadman, Browne, and Scavullo, intervention is inescapable. Shades of Bligh and Queeg.
Good work from a writer—never less than authoritative (The Ice Curtain, 2002, etc.)—who, with a little less techno and a bit more thriller, might have nudged this up to outstanding.