Chapter One Later that day Bachelor Officers Quarters, Naval Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut Outside the window, in the post-midnight pitch-blackness, the freezing wind howled and moaned. The wind slashed at the leafless trees on the slope that led down to the river. Now and then, sleet pattered the pane, the tail end of a strong nor'easter that had dumped a foot of snow. Inside the room, a candle glowed in one corner. The ancient steam-heat radiator hissed and dripped. Ilse Reebeck looked down at Jeffrey Fuller. "Do you want me to get off now?" He met her gaze, with that slightly out-of-focus look in his eyes he always got right after making love. Jeffrey nodded, too sated to speak. Ilse felt him watch her intently as she left the bed. He stayed fully under the covers -- she'd noticed since they'd first become intimate on New Year's Eve that he was strangely shy with her about his body, well endowed as he was with muscles and dark curly hair and the scars of an honorable war wound.
An unsettling mix of underwater suspense, love story and near-future sci-fi, Buff's latest represents a well-intentioned if plodding effort to update the genre of submarine thriller. Set in 2012, the novel takes as its premise a South Africa and Germany (the Axis) at war with the rest of the world (the Allies). Both sides use nuclear submarines as their primary weapons. After September 11, Buff's geopolitical vision seems unlikely at best. Even less convincing is the romance between South African turncoat Ilse Reebeck, now working for the Allies, and Jeffrey Fuller, U.S. nuclear submarine captain. Although Buff writes in clear and competent prose, the relationship between the two lovers remains lifeless. More interesting are the undersea conflicts between the Allied submarine Challenger and the Axis Voortrekker, commanded by Captain Jan ter Horst and first officer Gunther Van Gelder. Although marred by ter Horst's stiff lectures, the submarine battle scenes are stirring, especially when the Voortrekker attempts to sneak into Allied waters. Buff does a good job of switching between Allied and Axis positions and handling the rising tension as the two sides clash, though a few scenes of graphic violence seem more appropriate to a horror novel. The tongue-in-cheek nod to Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea-an encounter between a giant squid and a sperm whale-provides the only lighthearted moment in this otherwise deadly serious novel. Buff, a Life Member of the Naval Submarine League, clearly knows his stuff, but this entry lacks the impact of other recent submarine thrillers. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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October 31, 2003
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