I’m a sucker for novels that feature submarines, and Thomas F. Monteleone starts off with a fine one: Submerged is an epic thriller about a secret Nazi submarine and its mission. It begins in 1945 as Erich Bruckner, a battle weary commander of the U-boat U-5001, is on what may be his last journey in a war that is winding down; the submarine and its payload could change the fortunes of Germany. Fast forward to an alternating narration based in the present day where ex-Navy diver Dexter McCauley and his diving team discover a previously unknown wreck in Chesapeake Bay. It appears to be a German submarine of a shape and size never seen before. Both narrations alternate throughout the book then intertwine as the protagonists discover an even bigger secret, a secret that others are willing to kill for.
Monteleone’s novel is a tasty combination of Ken Follett and Clive Cussler. If one is into submarines, like yours truly, then you should be quite happy as there will be plenty of entertainment for you. As for present day, we get a lot of underwater excitement as the divers discover and explore the remains of the submarine, and through all this we get a mystery. What happened to the submarine and its crew? What is found in the wreck and what potential does it have to change the world? There is plenty of suspense and fun available in these pages.
But there is a wrinkle in the story: Bruckner’s mission journeys into H. P. Lovecraft territory. It is both a promising twist and, personally, a dampener to my enthusiasm. I love Lovecraftian fiction almost as much as I love submarines, but in that realm of the plot, there is more promise than delivery. The story isn’t sure whether it wants to be a weird tale or a thriller, so it tries to be both and by doing so it weakens both elements. The author is quite good at describing the strange landscape that the submariners find themselves in but it never really takes off. At best, it is secondary to the central plot and at worst, it is a teaser for a possible sequel.
So the best thing going for Submerged is that it is an intelligent and exciting techno/military thriller of the Follett or Clancy variety. The characters are a strong point, especially the ex-diver Dexter and the U-Boat commander Bruckner, yet despite the author’s prodigious skills at telling a story, it goes off track a bit, and the Lovecraftian elements are slight to say the least. Although promoted as horror, it barely fills the bill; perhaps if it was promoted as a thriller, that would have been more accurate. It probably would have gotten this book to the audience it deserves, but even if it takes a few missteps, it is still a very enjoyable novel and is recommended to those who dig maritime centered suspense.
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