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Capt. Stephen Rensselaer is overqualified to lead Patrol Coastal Ship 15, the Athena, but that is his assignment. While a hot war blazes in the Middle East, he and his vessel are assigned to the Indian Ocean near the Horn of Africa. His patrol craft is “best suited to the littorals,” while his crew, including SEALs, itch for action. They need not worry, as they engage in seven battles of increasing ferocity, ultimately resulting in Rensselaer’s trial for a capital crime. In one instance, a French cruise ship is hijacked by Islamic State group terrorists off the Somali coast. IS starts butchering the passengers one by one, drawing out the process to maximize worldwide publicity and fear. The Athena is in the area, but the president of the United States expressly forbids her to come to the aid of the ship. Rensselaer disobeys and follows his conscience. He is highly educated and loves to quote Shakespeare to his puzzled subordinates. “Our indiscretions sometimes serve us well, Horatio,” he tells a bemused officer, “and praisèd be rashness for it.” Comments like that fire up the ship’s gossip machine: “It was in fact a lot of fun to think that the old man was slightly off his nut.” Indeed, he is crazy about Katy Farrar, whom he meets early on, plans to marry, and thinks about in quiet moments during their inevitable separation. “Katy alone was worth all the blue oceans and all the bright stars,” he muses. The yarn hits a snag 60 pages in when the author stops for 10 pages to describe Athena’s architecture. Skip to Page 70 if you don’t want to read about it, he writes, but it interrupts the story’s momentum. Better he weave it in or tack it on at the end. But the action is terrific, and despite occasional verbosity, the writing is as good as anything else in the genre.


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