The year is 1943 and World War II in the Pacific rages on, with Americans engaged in desperate battles against a cunning enemy. Coast Guard Captain Josh Thurlow is on hand at the invasion of Tarawa, as the U.S. Navy begins the grand strategy of throwing her marines at island after bloody island across the Pacific. But nothing goes as planned as young Americans go up against fanatical defenders, who revel in snipers, big guns, and human wave attacks from which there is no escape save death.
As blood colors the waters around Tarawa, Josh flounders ashore through a floating graveyard of dead men and joins the survivors, determined to somehow wrest victory from disaster. Critically wounded, ,Josh expects to die. Instead, he is spun off on one of his greatest adventures when Sister Mary Kathleen, a young Irish nun, nurses him back to health, then shanghais Josh, sidekick Bosun Ready O'Neal, and three American marines to a group of beautiful tropical islands invaded by a brutal Japanese warlord. Josh and his little band must decide whether to help the Sister fight the battle she demands, return to Tarawa and the "real" war, or settle down in the romantic splendor of the South Seas.
Hickam expertly weaves the adventures of these hot-blooded characters tighter and tighter until the Sister's secrets and sins are finally revealed during a horrific battle in the lair of the warlord. With an incredible eye for historical detail and the talent of a master storyteller, Homer Hickam delivers another tour de force.
This is Hickam's third WWII action saga featuring Capt. Josh Thurlow, an officer exhibiting military insight and preternatural fighting abilities. The book opens in 1943 as an American fleet assembles off Tarawa, and the Marines prepare to land. Observing from the deck of a transport, Thurlow points out flaws in the attack plan and predicts the disaster that follows. Although only a spectator, Thurlow cannot resist the lure of battle; he leaps into a landing craft, struggles to shore and rallies the few surviving Marines until reinforcements arrive. Wounded during the melee, Thurlow loses consciousness only to awaken in a caravan of outriggers with a beautiful young nun, a dozen Polynesians and three nondescript Marines. The nun and her flock had endured the invasion as prisoners of the Japanese and are returning to the Far Reaches, their home islands, now occupied by Japanese troops. The nun has near-impossible plans in mind for Thurlow and a painful secret of her own; fans of the genre will know what to expect. Hickam (Rocket Boys; The Ambassador's Son) keeps the stakes high and the tension taut in this fast-moving historical. (June)
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Thomas Dunne Books
June 12, 2007
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Excerpt from The Far Reaches by Homer Hickam
"Sister, we die now?"
"If it is God's will, Nango."
The American bombardment had gone on for nearly an hour, and it seemed the big sand fortress might collapse beneath the weight of the mighty shells. Still, even as the thunderous assault sent down a rain of sand and coral dust on top of them, Sister Mary Kathleen smiled encouragingly at the muscular and intricately tattooed young man who had asked her the most pertinent question. She reflected, even at that awful moment, that they were quite the pair. Except for a wrap of bright red lava-lava cloth about his waist and a necklace of white cowrie shells and shark's teeth around his thick brown neck, Nango was essentially naked. She, on the other hand, was completely clothed from the top of her head to her slippered feet in the white shrouds of the habit of her sisterhood, the Order of the Sacred Blood. She allowed her smile to fall on the other fella boys, too. They had backed against the wall and were regarding her in anxious silence. "Prayers, me boys," she told them, pressing her hands together and letting her smile broaden to show them she wasn't afraid, even though she was. "Let them flow up to heaven. I'm praying to me little Saint Monessa, God bless her. She'll get us through this. I'm certain of it."
One of the fella boys replied in their native tongue, a dialect of the Marquesan language, which was itself a subgroup of ancient, premissionary Tahitian. "I think the Japanese will kill us soon, Sister."
"Japonee no killem me!" another of the fella boys replied hotly in pidgin. It was Tomoru, a giant of a man, covered like the rest with elaborate blue tattoos. He puffed out his hairless, muscular chest. "Me killem Japonee, Sister. You say, me do."
"No, Tomoru," she replied in his language. "Do not say such things, even in pidgin. They may understand."
"They" were the Japanese troops, the rikusentai, Imperial marines, who had crowded inside the sand-covered fortress to stoically wait out the ferocious American naval artillery pounding of Betio, the main island of the atolls called Tarawa. In contrast to the near-boredom of the Imperial troops, most of whom were quietly sitting on the earthen floor, Sister Mary Kathleen observed a nearby naval lieutenant whose legs were trembling. Each time a shell landed nearby, his startled eyes darted toward the dull roar of the explosion, and then he would visibly swallow. Sister Mary Kathleen's heart went out to the man. He was clearly terrified, yet so constrained by his nationality and rank that all he could allow himself was an inner scream that she could hear quite clearly.
When a lull in the bombardment went longer than a minute, Sister Mary Kathleen caught the Japanese lieutenant's eye, and he hurried over. "May I help you, Sister?" he asked, breathlessly.
She nodded and said in a near whisper, "I'm sorry, Lieutenant Soichi, but I really must go."
She nodded again, her summer blue eyes modestly downcast. "Go," she reiterated.
"Ahhhh," Lieutenant Soichi said, understanding now. "Go. Well, I understand why you would not care to squat over a pot like the others. I will be pleased to accompany you outside now that the shelling has stopped for the moment. But we will have to hurry."
"I am quite able to hurry, Lieutenant," she said, smiling at him.
He tried to smile back, but he was too nervous, and it came out a bit crooked. "Let me just explain the situation to Captain Sakuri." He cast an uneasy glance at the native men behind her and confided, "Those men, they always look like they want to murder me."
"Aye, Lieutenant. That is because they do."
"Ah, well," he shrugged. "I suppose they have good reason."
She nodded. "Yes. Very good reason. More than you might imagine."