Douglas Reeman's standard character-types -- the valiant junior Royal Navy officer with a personal sadness, the obsessive, driven commanding officer, and the beautiful girl with the shadowy and/or tragic past -- return again. Anyone who's read other Reeman books will find these types immediately recognizable. What makes "The Greatest Enemy" different from any of the other dozen or so Reeman titles I've read is that this one isn't set during World War II. Instead, it's a contemporary story (contemporary to when Reeman wrote it, that is, in 1970). And so whereas the other titles led to the inevitable climactic clash with German or Japanese forces, it's not clear, for most of this novel, who the enemy is ... or indeed, whether an enemy truly exists at all.
Because of the setting, there are fewer instances of combat in this novel than in most of the others -- although the climax, when it comes, makes up for the dearth. In place of the combat, there's a real psychological tension -- mostly surrounding the captain and his state of mind -- that reminded me at times of "The Caine Mutiny." A good part of the book's midsection is taken up by a harrowing description of the ship's voyage through a fierce and destructive typhoon.
As I said, the main characters are very similar to ones you'll find in many other Reeman novels, and so too is the developing romance between Our Hero and The Girl -- who, like so many of Reeman's female characters serves primarily, if not exclusively, as a love interest for Our Hero. And as is also typical in Reeman novels, the ship itself, in this case HMS Terrapin, an ancient frigate due for the scrap yard, is also one of the story's central characters. You may well find yourself attracted to her as much, or more, than any of the humans populating the story.
Although I put off reading this title for a while, for fear of not enjoying a non-World War II plot, I shouldn't have worried. Instead, I think this is one of the best Reeman titles I've read so far. Reeman's ability to weave a good story usually overcomes the stock nature of his characters. If you don't mind sailing with people you'll think you've met before, I predict Reeman fans -- or any fan of the war-at-sea genre -- will get a lot out of this title.