David Poyer

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"Korea Strait"

(reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew JAN 10, 2008)

"In that instant his brain warned him he'd pay for this. But then he remembered the men in a fragile envelope not far below the surface. The knife-edged bow of the old destroyer, flank speed, bad visibility...an electric shock ran up the injured nerves of his spine. He couldn't wait for someone else to act.

'Buffalo, Buffalo,' he said as clearly and slowly as he could. 'Event terminated. Dae Jon, Dae Jon: Speed zero, I say again, speed zero.' "

Fire on the Waters by David Poyer

Korea Strait is the tenth in a series that follows the naval career of Dan Lenson. He began his missions in The Med (first published twenty years ago) as a young lieutenant. These days thirty-nine-year-old Commander Lenson wears a Congressional Medal of Honor decoration but his high-profile history is a hot potato for his commanding officer. When Dan refuses to retire early, he's assigned to what should be a routine and inglorious shipboard tour in the Orient. He's to command a TAG (Tactical Analysis Group) gathering information during joint war game exercises with South Korea, Japan and Australia in the Korea Strait. Of course, Dan's timing is impeccable and while he's afloat on the South Korean flagship, Chung Nam, the games racking friendly targets are interrupted by a genuine attack by a squad of subs. The TAG commander is a "rider" with no command authority on the Chung Nam. But he and his team, determined to stand by an ally, disobey orders to evacuate (crossdeck) along with the rest of the American presence. Faced with typhoon seas and an unidentified enemy; Lenson aids Commodore Jung and the ship's company in such diverse ways as, among other things, calculating threat probabilities on his laptop and working with a below deck repair and rescue detail. The battle rages... and then the true destructive power of the enemy's weapons is discovered. Now, Dan must convince his superiors to approve a daring proposal in hopes of preventing mutual destruction in the strait!

Somehow I'd missed out on Poyer's Lenson series before, but I plan to catch up on many of the earlier volumes and look forward to future installments. Having no military background myself, I leave to others to vouch for the authenticity of the military acronyms and the techno-info, but since at least one of the Dan Lenson books has been a required text in the Literature of the Sea course at Annapolis, and Poyer has a reputation as one of America's best military fiction authors, the details are probably as realistic as national security will allow. (Poyer also pens an acclaimed "The Civil War at Sea" series, which two of books are reviewed here.

The Lenson series, also grouped as "Tales of the Modern Navy," shifts Dan into different types of duties in numerous hotspots around the world. In this look at the standoff between divided Korea, Dan and others mention a few of his previous assignments. Many authors stretch realism by placing their for-all-seasons heroes in more peril than any real person could survive, and readers accept this convention. However,in Korea Strait, the ever-enterprising commander manages to briefly do so many jobs (such as diving down to witness conditions in a scuttled sub), that I thought it hampered authenticity. In the author's defense, the plot device of sending Lenson pretty much everywhere we readers want to see when we want to see is generally effective. For example, the vivid action during the typhoon weather and the sub attacks that envelops us through Lenson's perspective would not have been enhanced by an omniscient view. Still, Lenson's wide competence range stretches credibility (although not as wildly as, for instance, Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt adventures).

Also, while I'm picking nits, the narrative's formulaic construction occasionally breaks the surface: We learn one of Lenson's team has a penchant for underage Korean girls, and sure enough, he gets himself arrested. Ripped from past headlines about American military men and Asian host countries' women. And what do you think happens to another man, whose command decisions on his own ship cost some sailors their lives? Does he get a chance to redeem himself? Korea Strait can sail into the predictable.

Those picky observations aside, this thriller is highly engrossing in many respects besides the tautly told main plot of battle against uncertain foe and turbulent sea. For instance, it convincingly portrays the tensions and strains that an American naval officer could experience aboard a foreign nation's ship. A few of the South Korean officers speak passable English, and they teach Dan a few phrases of Korean, but the language barrier isolates Dan and seriously impairs the allies' abilities to work together. Chung Nam's captain despises Lenson's few surges of ugly-Americanness, and the commodore's aloof leadership challenges Dan. Basically, Dan can't help feeling like a fish out of water in a navy so alien. Even his digestive system is thrown wildly out of whack by the food and the stress, leaving Dan in less than fighting trim during combat.

On the whole, Poyer delivers a suspenseful and, unfortunately, plausible scenario. The real world Koreas, China, Japan, and America all have great stakes in the political and military maneuvering in which they are engaged. One of these days Korea Strait might not be fiction anymore. Korea Strait is an expert tale of the modern Navy, authored by a real pro.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 10 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Fire on the Waters at SimonSays.com

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Hemlock County Series:

Dan Lenson: Tales of the Modern Navy Series:

Tiller Galloway Underwater Thriller Series:

Novels of the Civil War at Sea Series:


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

David PoyerDavid Poyer grew up in Western Pennsylvania. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis (Class of '71) and his naval service included sea duties around the world. He has taught or lectured at colleges and universities across the country, was a founding editor of the New Virginia Review and is currently a consulting editor for the State Street Review. His fiction is required reading in the U.S. Naval Academy's "Literature of the Sea" course.  

He is the most popular living author of American sea fiction. Sailor, engineer, and retired naval captain, he lives on Virginia's Eastern Shore with novelist Lenore Hart and their daughter.

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