Saturday, November 16, 2019

91. Murphy's War by Max Catto

This is such a beautiful cover (click for a larger view).  It is close to my platonic ideal of a men's action adventure book.  A beautiful, colourful illustration that bleeds to all four edges and big block sans serif letters for the title.  The image shows an actual scene from the book (though in this case, it is a bit of a spoiler).  The composition of the illustration itself is really awesome, too.  It draws your eye to the center of the explosion on the lower-right, which then naturally looks for the source of the explosion (the plane) and its victims (the German u-boat sailors).
It was interesting to read this book after having read the non-fiction U-Boat 977 a few weeks ago.  I wonder how much Catto took from that, as the story here is about a sub at the end of the war still attacking convoys off the coast of Africa. The captain and all the men but one Nazi ubermensch anatic are desperately waiting for the end of the war to be announced.  On the convoy, is an Australian escort, the Darwin Queen:
And the Darwin Queen was a mongrel.  She was a piece of naval miscegenation: the result of the mating of sheep with wolf.  She'd once been a passenger liner on the Sydney-San Francisco run; her hull still retained its rakish flare.  She'd been refitted in Seattle with toughened steel decks, a squat superstructure and six-inch gun turrets that, with the corrosion of time and endless combat, were already obsolescent and worn.  It was an aged wrestler's torso on feminine legs.  The British had given her a stern catapult for three Swordfish aircraft; only one was left, the rest lying in unmarked oceans like Drake's bones.
As you can see, the language in the book is rich, at times a bit overstuffed, but still really cool.  On the Darwin Queen, is a sailor named Murphy.  Abandoned at birth at the post office somewhere in the outback, he is a tough, brutal, hardworking troublemaker who has just punched out a senior officer while on shore leave in Lagos and quite likely awaiting a court-martial when the convoy arrives in Durban.  His depressing fate is diverted when the U-Boat in question torpedoes his ship.  He is one of the few survives when the fanatical first mate (who has taken over because the captain got knocked out temporarily) guns down the rest and then torpedoes a hospital ship.  Murphy swims to a deserted oil rig where he is rescued by the doctor of a local mission at the edge of this African delta.  He convalesces there and soon learns that the battered submarine has also taken shelter somewhere up river.  And thus Murhy's War begins.
It's quite a good book, though the action is equally weighted with the literary. There is a lot of exploration of the various characters, Murphy himself and his own identity and sense of self-worth, the captain of the sub, the cowardly deserter, the two doctors and nurse at the mission.  It's all quite interesting and well-written, but I would have preferred the action to thoughtfulness ratio to have been a bit higher.  In the end, the ways that Murphy goes after the sub is quite intense and amazing and the narrative complex enough that it keeps your sympathies from being too simplistically locked in.  It is a cool find. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They made a pretty good movie out of it also. I still can't get the song "My Hat's on the Side of My Head" out of my mind.