In Stone’s novel, World War I–era English poet Rupert Brooke has a startling influence on four students at the Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I.
At Navy OCS, James Drayton, an admiral’s son, forms a secret society, the Great Lovers, named after one of Brooke’s better-known poems. Drayton intends to reform the Navy, doing away with the elements he most despises at school, including hazing and cheating, though it isn’t clear why he chooses the other members, except for Tate, his roommate; the others seem unexceptional. They leave school after being posted to their respective areas of service, only to be brought back together when Drayton, an intelligence officer on an aircraft carrier dispatched near Taiwan to protect the integrity of an election, dies under mysterious circumstances—an explosion on the aircraft carrier killed five people. After the identities of the other Great Lovers are revealed, the four are court martialed as part of Drayton’s apparent mutiny; secret societies are forbidden in the Navy, and someone needs to be blamed for the tragedy. Defended by attorney Raoul Thomas, himself the subject of a court martial in his youth, the remaining Great Lovers are in a fight for their professional lives. Stone, also a graduate of Navy OCS, has an interesting story to tell, though the inclusion of naval terminology could have been handled less awkwardly. It’s a shame, too, that more of Brooke’s poetry isn’t included, other than a few bits of his biography offered by Drayton. Readers may wonder why the poet left such a big impression on the Great Lovers. While Drayton and his roommate are well-crafted characters, the two women are difficult to distinguish. Meanwhile, the book is something of a tribute to the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and Drayton’s attraction to heterosexual Tate is handled with sensitivity. However, the courtroom scenes are the book’s strong suit, although the surprise ending is weak. There are few dramatic twists or revelations, and readers never really learn exactly what was on Drayton’s mind when he died. His disappearance from the second half of the book, except as a discussion point, weakens the narrative power.
JAG fans and courtroom-drama enthusiasts will find enough of interest.