29th June 2014

Sailors Take Warning by Malcolm Torres

The USS Nimitz is involved in trialling a new, top secret cloaking device. While spending long months at sea, a host things begin to go awry: sabotage and other criminal activities; disappearing bodies; devil worship; psychotic killers; a tropical disease threatening to become an epidemic.  At first, this novel reads like a mystery/thriller, but gradually shifts into something with a more supernatural/horror feel.

The writing is of a reasonably high quality, and the story is peppered with a wide range of interesting characters. The story itself is at times a little chaotic, and not entirely coherent. Quite what is going on and why never becomes entirely clear. I had the feeling that the author had lots of great ideas, but hadn’t quite been able to string them together into a single, cohesive plot. It may have helped if some of the side plots had been jettisoned in the editing process. I think particularly of a BDSM relationship that develops between an officer and his young, enlisted assistant. This serves no purpose in the overall plot and is left unsatisfactorily resolved. The reader is led to believe that the strange rash affecting several members of the crew has something to do with whatever is going on, but in the end appears not to.

One of the main problems I have with this story is that there are no main characters, just a host of characters who do their bit here and there. To that extent the blurb on the Amazon page for this book is misleading. The story opens with a young naval officer, Kate. The opening is well-paced, and I settled down to enjoy her story. The blurb (and this opening chapter) leads the reader to believe that Kate will be our protagonist. She isn’t. ‘Kate takes drastic action on her own,’ asserts the blurb. She doesn’t. Kate disappears after the first chapter, popping up briefly here and there, but does nothing of any importance. She only becomes important again towards the end of the novel, but still not really taking ‘drastic action’. Terrence McDaniels, Kate’s love interest, is another potential protagonist, but he too comes and goes, and doesn’t really play a key role in events. In fact, my overall sense was that nobody does. In the end, perhaps the most ‘central’ character is Danny Jenks, a devil worshipping, psychotic killer. But he too could vanish from the story for long periods. The problem here is that the reader never really has a chance to identify with any of the characters. Any with whom the reader does begin to forge a bond (Nikki, for instance, the young girl involved in the BDSM relationship) are likely to disappear suddenly with no reference to their subsequent fate. While a character such as Captain Brandt (the other participant in the BDSM relationship) is quite well-drawn, we have no sense of his history, of why he is the way he is. Who he is at this present time is presented to us in a vacuum.

Despite these criticisms, there is enough here to make for interesting reading. I did want to know where the story was going, and what was going to happen to some of the characters. The fact that, in the end, I’m still not sure where the story went and why, and that some of the characters were forgotten along the way, left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied. I think it would have worked better if the author had adhered more closely to a central plotline. Side plots needed to feed into this central plot in some way. Giving more ‘screen time’ to only three or four main characters would also have given the reader a greater investment in the outcome of events.

The quality of the writing lifts this novel a little, as do the fertile ideas with which it is peppered. I give it 3.5 stars, rounding that to 4 stars where necessary.