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My hats off to all Annapolis Alumni!
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As people die mysteriously in the wintry Pennsylvania hills, a mining corporation faces a hostile takeover, and some begin to blame the killings on recently introduced wolves.
The corporate parts of the story are frankly rather boring until you reach the culmination, the reason for them. Poyer must have dealt with corporate vampire types before. The takeover and proposed restructuring ring true.
Believability isn't necessarily this novel's strong point. The twist, the criminal behavior of a character, comes with no foreshadowing whatsoever. Secret mines where trespassers are savaged by attack dogs? Wolves saving children from frozen lakes? (The wolves are described well and mostly accurately, but that bit lost me). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book. The descriptions of the winter mountains are especially strong. I recommend it.
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Lenson is not a typical hero - which is what I really like about his character. He does remain bound by honor and trying "to do the right thing". He is a character anyone can identify with; not a superhero like the James Bond's of the fictional world.
I read with interest the comments by former Navy types; I am glad Poyer got the details right.
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I have no military background at all, let alone combat experience. But Poyer's account of this fictional small-unit mission, by a squad of Force Recon U.S. marines with a Navy missle expert and a biological warfare doctor, during the Persian Gulf War rings true on every page. The achievement is all the more remarkable because his previous novels about the U.S. Navy today have usually been focused on naval and naval air themes.
Poyer captures the strange intimacy of a Force Recon unit, whose members may not even be friends, yet they must be willing to die for each other. As the mission progresses, the squad finally enters Bagdad, and the sense of physical and emotional claustrophobia is almost palpable.
The reader can share in the extreme isolation of these combatants, the constant pressure to avoid detection, to avoid battle, the obsessional nature of the mission objective -- to discover if the Iraquis have created launchable missles armed with a deadly smallpox variant, and if so, to destroy them.
By under-writing the traditional action elements, Poyer lets the characters, with all their flaws and doubts and problems, emerge ever more clearly, and surely, as the focus of our attention. Against all odds, the squad moves toward its objective by all means possible. Over and over again, we're aware of how things both great and small hinge on the decision, the choice of single member of the squad.
Often that is the squad leader, Marine Gunnery Sargeant Marcus Gault. In Gault, Poyer has created a remarkable portrait of the nature of small-unit combat leadership: "Black Storm" could almost (again speaking as a civilian) be a primer on the subject. As the team leader, Gault is continually facing and making life and death decisions, each one measured against the merciless standard of the mission's success.
But Poyer doesn't cast Gault, or any of the characters, in traditionally "heroic" terms. In fact, the character of a sociopathic, if not psychotic, British SAS sergeant, with whom the Marines make contact inside Iraq, acts as a mirror of how the same military virtues Gault displays have the potential to become monstrous.
It is the very "ordinariness" of Gault and the others that is so compelling: young men, most of them, with terrifying responsibilities. And yet..."they soldier on."
In the end we, at least we civilians, are left facing the awe-full mystery of men and women willing to sacrifice their lives.
LTC Lenson's diaspora scrabbles across the rocky deserts of Iraq only to slosh trough the sewers of Bagdad. Poyer's warts-and-all portrait of personal and military ethics brings the combat experience into fine focus.
While BLACK STORM is set in the closing moments before the allied invasion of Iraq it is not a history lesson. BLACK STORM reads the tea leaves of tomorrows headlines. Read this book before some Hollywood hack neuters it for the screen.
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My only complaint is for the excessive use of swear words throughtout the book. ...
This is a good read for naval action buffs.
Though looking like a techno-thriller, "The Med" as Poyer fans have come to expect, is more of a charachter-driven novel set in a Navy unit. Here, the major players are Lenson, his wife (struggling, confornting, ala Stokholm, her feelings for her captors), Sundstrom, Lenson's unpopular commander (who thinks everybody is setting him up for disaster, and is paralyzed by indecision), Givens, and African-American marine terrorized by his more militant corporal, Wronowicz, the career engineer of a Navy destroyer, and Harisah, the so-called "Majd" who commands the terrorists. As in "The Gulf", these charachters don't always intersect (the UDT divers who remain apart from the focus of Lenson thruought much of that book), but that only clues one into how expansive the subject is. The non-charachter driven parts of the book are refreshingly anti-techno (mostly Wronowicz's epic efforts to change a propellor-shaft bearing while his destroyer is at sea). While a feel for nautical-mechanics of the nuts-and-bolts of amphibious warfare help for an understanding of what's going on, the effects of thsoe efforts in sheer exhaustion are easily visualized. The book climaxes in a seemingly doomed rescue-attempt (though the assault-force has the best chances of getting to the hostages, a rescue attempt seems a more apt job for some special forcers team). The action seems underwhelming, and it's hard to understand what's going on sometimes, though this is probably because Poyer is writing outside of his element. By the end of the book, we know it's not exactly a happy-ending, but things seem way-too pat. Still, the writing and the charachter formations are what drive Poyer books and help them surpass techno-thrillers.
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The wonderful thing about this book about cave divers, is Poyer's ability to make you feel "closed in" almost out of breath, during the cave diving scenes. I enjoyed most of the characters including Galloway's son, and group of friends.
The ending is somewhat dissapointing. It is exciting, but it gets a little too far fetched at times. I do recommend this book, despite the ending and it's shortcomings.
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The novel focuses on Elisha Eaker, a tubercular young volunteer officer who joins the Navy to achieve independence from his domineering father, a wealthy New York merchant who is as ruthless with his family as he is with his competitors. Poyer's creation of Eaker as the protagonist is a smart move, because it allows the reader to see OWANEE and her crew through the new officer's inexperienced eyes. We get to learn the working of OWANEE's engine room, for example, as it is explained to Eaker by the ship's chief engineer. It's an effective technique for introducing readers to a time and technology that lies beyond most peoples' experience.
One of the fun things about Fire on the Waters is the parade of historical characters that appear throughout the book. Virtually every important person connected with the U.S. Navy in April 1861 is present, including Gideon Welles, Hiram Paulding, Benjamin Isherwood and Charles Wilkes among others. Some, like Gustavus Fox, play a pivotal role in moving the plot along, while others add important color to a scene or event. The Army is represented, with Eaker's brief encounter with Major Anderson and Captain Doubleday inside beleaguered Fort Sumter, and Horace Greeley and Frederick Douglass even make brief cameos. It's a credit to Poyer's skill at crafting the plot that the regular appearance of these figures doesn't seem like a historical novelist's attempt at name-dropping; rather, they all turn up in a plausible sequence of events and never steal the scene from the main focus of the book, the fictional officers and crew of U.S.S. OWANEE.
Even without the dust jacket's announcement of Fires on the Waters as the first in a series of novels, it's obvious that the book was written with that intent. Two major characters in the book "go South" during the course of the novel, leaving unresolved plot threads that will have to be sorted out later. One or the other of these men, no doubt, will be conning C.S.S. VIRGINIA into Hampton Roads two or three novels hence.
A significant sub-plot in the novel involves Eaker's cousin Araminta Van Velsor, who is betrothed to Eaker and who is also struggling to get out from under the stifling "protection" of Eaker's father. This story is less fully developed than Eaker's, and appears to exist as much for the sake of a change of scenery in the novel as for anything else. Miss Van Velsor is not fully explored as a character. Her rebellion against her uncle's domination is mildy interesting, but it's difficult for her personal struggle to count for much in readers' minds when contrasted against the momentous events her cousin is witnessing. One hopes that she will play a more important role in future volumes of the series.
Poyer's book is a good read, and unlike O'Brian's over-adulated work, it never seeks to impress the reader with the author's command of obscure linguistic or culinary trivia. There's not a pretentious word in this book. If you want a good sea story on a subject that has been almost entirely overlooked by
Poyer is one of the only "military fiction" authors who knows how to string words together. He writes evocatively, even artistically. His descriptions of ships and battles are particularly good. Setting is excellent, with a few anachronistic moments overshadowed by the wonderful description, both technical and sensory, of Civil War-era steam/sail warships.
The characters here are appealingly tormented, particularly Eli, whose affliction with consumption is a very nice touch. Ker Claiborne, who must decide whether or not to join his seceding state, and the ahead-of-his-time young engineer Theo, are appealing as well. Less believable is Eli's ex-fiancee Araminta, who seems a little anachronistic in her independence and is certainly a bit annoying, though probably "period", in her do-gooder tendencies. I did find some of the dialogue, especially "dialect" dialogue, to sound a bit too British.
The plot is very exciting, with huge amounts of action. Occasionally the part of the plot dealing with family relationships gets a little melodramatic, not to say purple.
I think this is an absolutely wonderful book which not only helps to fill a gap in Civil War literature but which, because of its good writing, will appeal to readers not normally interested in the period.
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In CHINA SEA, both David Poyer as author and LCDR Dan Lenson are back in top form. The time is 1990 and Dan Lenson is ordered to Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to relieve the CO of a Knox Class frigate, the USS GADDIS. The current skipper is an alcoholic and almost out of control and the ship is scheduled for decommissioning and transfer to the Pakistani Navy. Early in the book, Poyer describes in detail the problems of the handover and the lack of skill of the Pakistani captain. In one particular incident, he describes a small lube oil fire that sends the Pakistani engine room crew for the lifeboats. Their officers are not far behind. A small skeleton crew of Americans fights the fire, puts it out and waits for the return of the ship's new owners. Reading Poyer's description of the Pakistani captain's shiphandling skills is humorous and painful at the same time. There are several incidents that will make former USN readers cringe when they read them and make the same reader glad that competent seafarers like Lenson are aboard to help.
Approximately 1/4 of the way through this story, Poyer introduces a nice little twist. It coincides with the arrival of the former USN frigate in its new homeport in Pakistan. Lenson and the MTT (military transition team) receive orders that the transfer has been cancelled and the USA is again taking custody of the ship. Lenson receives verbal orders from the naval attache in Islamabad to take possession of the ship and steam for Singapore. There are problems, though. He has too small a crew, no money and no ammunition for the 5 inch gun or the 20 mm and 40mm guns that the Pakistanis had installed. He steams out of port nonetheless. In Singapore he picks up some bottom of the barrel replacements but still not quite a full ships's company. He also gets a naval reserve officer sent to the Far East for his annual training. Also a LCDR, he will prove his worth because of his intelligence background and the fact that while on active duty, he was a comptent surface warfare officer.
There is another stroke of genius in Poyer's writing that adds a complication to the novel's plot and Dan Lenson's life as the CO of "GADDIS." There is a serial killer aboard. It seems that everywhere the ship goes, it leaves horribly mangled dead women behind it. How Lenson solves this mystery adds immeasureably to the overall success of the entire book and I think readers will ponder long after they've finished Lenson's final resolution when the murderer is identified.
Along the way, GADDIS becomes part of a multi-national task force designed to ferret out and destroy pirates in the oceans between Singapore and the Chinese island of Hainan. The TNTF for "tiny nations task force" is composed of elements of the Singaporean, Indonesian, Malaysian and Phillipine Navies. Each nation contributes a ship and some are more capable than others. Poyer does an outstanding job of describing the difficulties of managing such an ad hoc force, especially one that is hampered by dissimilar capabilities, equipment and communications. While the GADDIS packs most of the combat punch of this force, Lenson must constantly keep an eye on his fuel gauges and remember that he is seriously lacking in ammunition for his main battery.
Poyer doesn't miss a trick and reminds the reader that the sea is a dangerous and unforgiving place. He also introduces typoons into the equation. The reader knows with this book that being the commanding officer of a naval ship sent in harm's way is much more demanding a job than anyone can ever begin to imagine. Poyer's description of Lenson's thought processes and the pressures he must deal with are masterful. This book becomes and remains a page turner from the time that Lenson reassumes command of the ship in Pakistan.
As Lenson and GADDIS deal with their various "minor" problems, major ones begin to surface. The crew of GADDIS is one that is thrown together and the enlisted personnel are not the cream of the crop. Lenson has a very small wardroom and an executive officer that he cannot count on. He must still also find out who among his crew is the killer. There are several false starts in his investigation before the culprit is finally revealed. While I realized where he was taking the investigation, I did not at first suspect who the author reveals. I think Poyer did a fine job of concealing that identity until the last moment.
This is sea story, a lesson in international power politics and a murder mystery all wrapped up in a tight and tidy package. There are good characters and bad ones. What I liked is that while Dan Lenson is not a perfect person, he never loses his moral compass. He is a better officer and person than he gives himself credit for and that is what makes reading about him so enjoyable.
After having read this book, I must say that I owe David Poyer an apology. In my review of TOMAHAWK here at Amazon, I told readers that I thought that novel should probably be Lenson's last outing. After reading CHINA SEA, I can honestly say that I hope to see several more installments in the continuing saga of DAN LENSON, USN.
Thank you Mr. Poyer for a most enjoyable read. I hope you'll keep Dan Lenson around for more adventures at sea.
Fair winds and following seas.
Poyer has always been an artistically admirable writer. If you've already read China Sea, return to Prologue 3 on page 11. As horrible as what it describes is, Poyer's prose is gorgeous, reminiscent of what made me pay special attention to him in another of his novels, As the Wolf Loves Winter. Poyer proves even in this small passage that he can consistently hit the artistic mark that Thomas Harris set in Silence of the Lambs.
Poyer's series hero, Dan Lenson, has evolved from a relatively innocent follower to a seasoned, wise, yet renegade leader. He struggles always to be faithful to his own commanders, yet his sense of loyalty and commitment brings him face to face, again and again, with the vagaries of human frailty. He is the adherent to the black-and-white code of Navy tradition that forever proves inadequate to contain the ambitions and passions of human leaders. And yet even as Lenson suffers professionally, he prevails in his belief that there is absolute truth somewhere out there.
The only character I can think of in another modern novel series who has been as exquisitely treated as Poyer's Dan Lenson is in the Lawrence Block series, Matt Scudder. Lenson's experiences and the effect they have on the ongoing development of his character are razor-sharp in every novel. Lenson feels like an old friend from whom I've heard many intimate thoughts, and he seems to be as complex and alive as any person I've ever known.
So many of Poyer's professional reviews focus on the realism of the Navy experience he describes, but what I am fascinated by is the realism of the human heart in the reality of leadership and command that Poyer portrays with such excellence.
Keep it up, David! I figure I'm going to retire right along with Lenson!