Korea Strait: A Novel Hardcover – Dec 10 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
The taut 10th entry in Poyer's series featuring U.S. Navy commander Dan Lenson (following The Threat) is rich in the naval detail fans have come to expect. After refusing a request that he take a medical retirement (after his political hot-potato adventures saving the president from assassination), Dan is less than pleased when he's put on the shelf and ordered to oversee a small crew of U.S. civilians and retired military personnel who will participate in an international training exercise off the Korean peninsula. But even before he comes aboard the South Korean frigate on which he and his team will be stationed, the discovery of a disabled North Korean submarine off the coast—and the lethal response of the survivors, trapped within—is the first clue he has that North Korea may have decided to plunge the world into nuclear war. From there, Poyer provides readers with a satisfying, fast-paced narrative in which Dan must negotiate his past, his superiors and an unpredictable submerged enemy. Poyer's tech talk throughout is nicely turned, and Dan Lenson remains a winningly weary hero. (Dec.)
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"What if North Korea attacked South Korea and the U.S. . . . not with tanks and missiles, but with a devastating strike from the sea? A gripping and timely naval adventure by “a master of authentic detail” --Kirkus Reviews
Praise for The Threat
“Poyer remains the most thoughtful of the military-thriller set and a master of authentic detail.”
“There's plenty of danger and gripping action to satisfy his legion of fans.”
“Plenty of action, plot twists, and just enough character development to keep the pace moving . . . grab this engaging pot boiler.”
“A revealing portrayal of the backroom goings-on at the White House. Poyer’s more interested in story and character than in slam-bang action, and that’'s a good thing because when the action does kick in, we care enough about the characters to follow them into danger. Recommended especially for fans of Robert Ludlum’s political thrillers (although Poyer is a superior writer).”
Top Customer Reviews
This particular novel is timely in the wake of recent erratic behavor among the DPRK leadership, including aggression at sea directed at the ROK Navy. Poyer deftly demonstrates the challenges of trying to understand the often peculiar and unpredictable actions of the DPRK, and the inevitable differing perceptions between DC and the guys on the ground.
President Milli Vanilli would do well to read this book, but he's not likely to feel he has anything to learn from it since he knows everything already. But the next 12-18 months could confront the Vanilli administration with a real crisis on the peninsula, on top of Iran and a host of competing self-inflicted foul-ups. Hopefully, the real life Lensons will continue to deter, or contain, any flare up while the Poseur-in-Chief continues to sleep walk through history.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This thriller is highly engrossing in many respects besides the tautly-told main plot of battle against foe and 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 sometimes 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.
But here is one nit to be picked: the narrative's formulaic inserts occasionally break the surface. We learn one of Lenson's team has a penchant for underage Korean girls, and sure enough, he gets himself arrested. That plot is ripped from past headlines about American military men and Asian host countries' women. And what do you think happens to another man, whose command decision on his own ship cost some sailors their lives? Does he get a chance to redeem himself? KOREA STRAIT can and does lean into the predictable.
On the whole, though, Poyer delivers a suspenseful and, unfortunately, plausible scenario. The real world Koreas, China, Japan, and America all have great stakes in that ongoing political and military brinksmanship. 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. (nearly 4.5 stars)
He is tasked to serve as an observer to a multinational exercise involving South Korea, Japan, Australia, and America off of Korean. Part of his duties is to escort U.S. civilians and retired military personnel and serve as liaison between them and their naval hosts on a South Korean frigate. However, the simple but boring mission turns suddenly potentially deadly when a disabled North Korean submarine is found nearby. They refuse rescue as they prefer to go down with the ship. This disturbs Lenson as he thinks they have something to hide; unaware at that moment how accurate his assessment is as other North Korean subs head to the Sea of Japan with perhaps Kim's personally autographed nukes; Dan plans to find out though his superiors and the South Korean Navy demand he do nothing except escort duty.
Lenson is terrific as his heroic past proves a handicap when it comes to political appointees and the Naval and DOD brass, who are entrenched bureaucrats seeking their next job while insuring their current position causes no personal harm to their careers. The enemy is unknown yet known as being erratically impulsive so anything can happen. However, as Lenson has learned throughout his naval career, sometimes the real enemy is the guy patting you on the back saying good job Brownie. Contemporary military fiction fans will relish David Poyer's exciting Korean thriller that spotlights how complex the five decade plus truce is.
Lenson must walk fine lines as a detached observer on a foreign naval vessel - his American expertise valued but with distrust of long-term US backing of South Korea. Lenson hates the food but comes to respect the stalwart South Korean fleet and its resolute commodore.
The book drags a bit through the first half, but picks up well as the plot thickens. Lenson makes his way through complicated relations with his own civilian team as well as the South Korean officers with mixed feelings about having Americans aboard. The tension slowly rises but at times it's as dreary as the North Pacific seas Poyer describes. There are also more acronyms than usual. On the up side it gives us a very real feel for the extreme tensions along the Korean faultline, ones that continue to trouble the world to this day. And it's got some of the best modern sub warfare detail this side of Tom Clancy.
The dreariness isn't necessarily bad; Poyer is trying to show us the real side of modern naval life. In this case the few familiarities and comforts Lenson might otherwise have on ship, he must do without because he's on a foreign vessel. Lenson's Hornblower-like alienation, a driving part of his character development over the series, is heightened by depressing conditions on this or that ship. Lenson has made his share of allies during his career but in each novel finds himself starting anew, amid distrustful strangers to whom he must prove himself, and frequently stretching his authority and putting his career on the line to do his duty. Hornblower would have quite approved.
Joining a "TAG", he prepares to observe a series of anti-submarine wargames conducted by South Korea's navy. Though all signs indicate the exercise is routine, the South Koreans suspect the Americans will use the wargames to justify a pull-out, leaving the south to face off against the ambitious (and still rabidly hostile) DPRK to the north for the first time since the 1950's. As prior readers of Poyer/Lenson novels would expect, Dan Lenson's integration is hardly smooth, with Lenson enduring culture clashes with his Korean crew and less-than warm relations with his fellow Americans - one of whom is an embittered ex-USN officer who retired after enduring Dan-Lenson-style bad luck on his final command.
What begins as a series of practice maneuvers beset by bad weather takes a terrifying and lightning turn into the brutality of war at sea. The multinational exercise breaks down as typhoons and international incidents beyond Korea Strait force Japan and Australia to pull their ships. The USN nearly pulls out its contribution - a Los Angeles class nuclear sub - when poor South Korean helmsmanship nearly causes a disastrous collision.
Wallowing in the sea, wanting only to prove themselves, the Koreans search for a target.
Fate gives them 4 unidentified submarines.
In the ensuing days, Dan will find himself on the verge of the next Korean war, as the mysterious subs manage to elude the South Korean warships, and turn hunters into prey. Both Lenson and the ROKN officers will be driven to exhaustion as relentless fighting whittles the task force of its ships and men, and intel reveals the submarines' insidious and catastrophic mission.
Boy that's a lot of hyperbole.
If there was only one writer who could make a story like this work, it's Poyer - no one can cut through the high-tech and political agitprop to find the real story like Poyer can. The cardboard heroic or villainous characters of typical technothrillers are absent here. Unlikable characters are informed by their desperate circumstances - we know why these guys are as remote as they appear. Poyer also allows his story to develop naturally by using his characters to drive and tell the story. We know what's happening because we pay attention to the characters - no omniscient narrator explaining what's happening or what the evil plan is. Poyer trusts his characters and got me to do the same. Lastly, while many talk about being realistic, Poyer develops, creating a compelling milieu of ships and men at sea.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK? "Korea Strait" was not only a great story but a very smooth one as well. The depth and sophistication of Poyer's other books is missing. We get some great scenes of typhoons and naval warfare, but Poyer manages to wrap things up much neater than you'd want. The makings of a richer and broader story are here. I was constantly reminded of "HMS Ulysses" and "The Bedford Incident" - stories of hunters at sea who find themselves becoming "the hunted", books that went farther and deeper and took longer to read. The stories of the Lenson series vary in size and scope - from the episodic "The Gulf" to the epic-sized "Tomahawk" - and if there was a story that deserved the latter, "Korea Strait" was definitely that story.
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