By F. K. Tallis
Pegasus Crime, 2015
Paperback (available April, 2017)
Kindle edition: $12.99
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
1941: Kapitanleutnant Siegfried Lorenz stands on the deck of his submarine, U-330, staring at the cold and icy waters of the North Atlantic. He is bored and weary, and the forty-nine crewmembers are restless. The patrol has been uneventful, but that changes when they spot an eerie vision emerging from the mist. A raft, carrying two passengers, is coming toward them. One is standing, arm outstretched in a macabre salute; the other is seated, unmoving. Neither man makes any attempts to signal the U-boat. The reason becomes apparent as the raft drifts closer. The outstretched arm is skeletal. Both men are in rags; both are very, very dead, and have been for some time. There is no evidence that the men were military. Based on the age of the lifebelts, the crew decides they must be passengers from a doomed ocean liner, and they move on.
Submariners are notoriously superstitious, and this sighting casts a pall over the sailors. Some of the crew feel an unearthly presence, close enough to touch them. Accidents that shouldn’t happen do happen with alarming frequency. Tempers are short, morale low. A highly classified message comes through, diverting the ship to the Icelandic coast. They are to pick up two prisoners of war and return them to the base at Brest ASAP. It seems like an odd assignment, but orders must be followed. Lorenz is surprised to find that the men, a British officer and an elderly Norwegian scientist, are in the custody of the SS. They must be high value prisoners: as such, the task becomes extremely dangerous.
The trip encounters turbulence, both in the weather conditions and within the ship. After things go wrong with the prisoners, Lorenz is ordered to abort the mission and join other U-boats in battle. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong. They go into battles based on flawed information, putting them in mortal danger several times.
THE PASSENGER is a kind of Gothic, Psychological, Supernatural Suspense War novel, with the best aspects of each genre. The reader will be pulled into the claustrophobic, fetid atmosphere of the u-boat, smelling the scent of diesel fuel, unwashed bodies, and terror. Lorenz is a finely realized character: a warrior of the old kind, with little respect for the Nazi cause; sentimental, yet strong, a leader of men and a tortured soul. The other characters are equally well-rounded. The glimpses of the cold, icy sea and the dangers of battle come through loud and clear. The supernatural aspects are all the more menacing in their subtlety. All in all, an intriguing story. Just don’t read it before bedtime. Recommended.
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