#BookReview Splinter on the Tide by Phillip Parotti @Casemate_UK

Splinter on the TideAbout the Book

Having survived the sinking of his first ship, Ensign Ash Miller USNR is promoted and assigned to command one of the sleek new additions to “the splinter fleet,” a 110-foot wooden submarine chaser armed with only understrength guns and depth charges. His task is to bring the ship swiftly into commission, weld his untried crew into an efficient fighting unit, and take his vessel to sea in order to protect the defenseless Allied merchant vessels which are being maliciously and increasingly sunk by German U-Boats, often within sight of the coast.

Ash rises to the deadly challenge he faces, brings his crew of three officers and 27 men to peak performance, and meets the threats he faces with understated courage and determination, rescuing stricken seamen, destroying Nazi mines, fighting U-Boats, and developing both the tactical sense and command authority that will be the foundation upon which America’s citizen sailors eventually win the war. During rare breaks in operations, Ash cherishes a developing relationship with the spirited Claire Morris who embodies the peaceful ideal for which he has been fighting.

Format: Paperback (234 pages) Publisher: Casemate Publishing
Publication date: 5th July 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Military

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My Review

When Naval reservist, Ash Miller, is assigned to the subchaser, Chaser 3, he is warned by Lieutenant Commander Sims not only that the vessel will roll a lot (as he and his crew subsequently find out) but that the war is right on America’s doorstep. Sims observes, ‘This is going to be a citizen’s war, an amateur’s war, and that makes it our war.‘ Given a largely untried crew to command, Sims advises Ash, ‘Drill them, Mr Miller; drill them until they think there’s no tomorrow, and then drill them some more’.

Ash takes this advice to heart and the commissioning process that follows is relentless and takes place around the clock: taking on food and other supplies, managing the delicate art of bringing ammunition aboard, and completing unending amounts of paperwork. The cramped quarters make for uncomfortable living conditions and the rolling of the ship in anything but the calmest seas means frequent recourse to ‘barf buckets’ for most of the crew.

The Cruel Sea Penguin edition
‘So they went to war.’

Ash takes his command responsibilities seriously, advising his two ensigns, Solly and Hamp, ‘From here on out, the only thing that can relieve me of my responsibility for this ship and relieve you of your responsibility to me is if I am killed in action‘. Following sea trials, and equipped with only sonar but no radar, the crew of Chaser 3 embark on their first mission, escorting a tanker and three freighters on a four hundred mile journey. It will be the first of many such missions, all of them fraught with danger.

Soon they have their first brief encounter with a U-boat and later the reader experiences the crew’s excitement on getting their first positive contact on sonar.  What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between the subchasers and enemy submarines intent on sinking ships in the convoys, ships taking vital supplies to and fro across the Atlantic. However Ash is conscious that success against a U-boat, while sparing the lives of men aboard merchant shipping, means consigning other men, albeit the enemy, to a watery grave. ‘Killing Germans was in no way a course of action in which he would ever take pleasure, but if it were the only way to get rid of Hitler and his crazed regime, Ash knew that he would do it, and live with it until the job was finished.’  

There is a real sense of the crew of Chaser 3 becoming a family and I especially enjoyed the banter between Ash, Solly and Hamp. Time ashore is brief but the crew make the most of it, including Ash who soon forms a relationship with a woman named Claire. It’s the nature of war that romance happens at the speed of light and is made up of snatched, intense moments between people who don’t know when – or if – they will see each other again.

Splinter on the Tide introduced me to the maritime vessel, the subchaser, as well as countless other things I didn’t know before such as the fact that Nazi U-boat attacks on shipping along the US’s Atlantic coast were kept from the American public for fear of its effect on morale or that, during the war, some American companies continued to supply gasoline to Germany which fuelled enemy aircraft and U-boats. 

As well as being a gripping naval adventure story, Splinter on the Tide oozes authenticity. If you are a fan of films such as The Enemy Below, In Which We Serve or The Cruel Sea, then I think you will enjoy Splinter on the Tide as much as I did.

My thanks to Casemate Publishing for my review copy. You can read more about Phillip’s inspiration for the book here and find my pick of the historical fiction titles recently published and forthcoming from Casemate. Finally, you can read an exclusive extract from Appointment in Tehran by James Stejskal which will be published by Casemate on 15th October 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

In three words: Compelling, authentic, inspiring

Try something similar: The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat

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Phillip ParottiAbout the Author

Phillip Parotti grew up in Silver City, New Mexico, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1963, and served four years at sea on destroyers, both in the Pacific and the Atlantic, before exchanging his regular commission for a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve. In addition to a number of short stories, essays, and poems, Parotti has published three well received novels about The Trojan War. In retirement, Parotti and his wife, Shirley, live in their hometown where he continues to write and work as a print artist.

#BookReview A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptiste Andrea @BelgraviaB

A Hundred Million Years and A DayAbout the Book

When he hears a story about a huge dinosaur fossil locked deep inside an Alpine glacier, university professor Stan finds a childhood dream reignited. Whatever it takes, he is determined to find the buried treasure.

But Stan is no mountaineer and must rely on the help of old friend Umberto, who brings his eccentric young assistant, Peter, and cautious mountain guide Gio. Time is short: they must complete their expedition before winter sets in. As bonds are forged and tested on the mountainside, and the lines between determination and folly are blurred, the hazardous quest for the Earth’s lost creatures becomes a journey into Stan’s own past.

Format: Paperback (176 pages)  Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 7th May 2021 Genre: Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation

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My Review

‘It’s true that a story often begins with a road, but I wish I knew what made mine so tortuous.’

The book opens with Stan’s poignant childhood memory of returning home after school, seeing the closed shutters of a bedroom window and realising, even as a six year old, that he should not disturb his mother. ‘In such moments she needed darkness, and darkness alone.’ The reasons for this will gradually become apparent.

Stan’s discovery near his farmland home of a fossil – a trilobite – awakens an interest in palaeontology. ‘It was three hundred million years old, and I was six.’ It’s an interest that is encouraged by his mother but discouraged by his bully of a father (known as the Commander) who desires Stan to take over the family business.

Moving ahead forty years to 1954 and Stan is now a Professor of Palaeontology in Paris. He has never forgotten the story of an old man’s discovery of a dinosaur fossil in a cave within a glacier in the Alps. Finding the site has become an obsession. Along with Umberto, a friend and colleague of many years, Umberto’s assistant Peter, and local guide Gio, the four men embark on the expedition of a lifetime. (There is another member of the group but I’ll leave you to read the book to find out more about him!)

I loved the way each of the men were fully rounded characters.  Umberto is a giant of a man with a ‘good, big, stone soul’.  When it comes to excavation he has ‘magic in his hands’ able to gently release ‘time’s grip’ on a fossil. His loyalty to Stan means leaving personal commitments back home. Gio’s instinct for changing weather conditions and his knowledge of the mountains is unparalleled.  However, he also knows only too well what dangers they hide. Peter is described as having a ‘genius for the absurd’ which will be demonstrated all too clearly.

I admired the way the author explored the dynamics between the men, especially as summer gives way to autumn and every day seems to present a new obstacle to overcome in order to achieve their objective.  The frustration and anger that festers beneath the surface is vividly brought to life in a memorable paragraph delivered in stream of consciousness style.

Another striking aspect of the book is its use of anthropomorphism so that even the weather seems to exhibit a life of its own.  For example, autumn is described as ‘prowling at the edge of the plateau… a beast of flesh and claws’.  As weeks turn to months it becomes akin to a battle of wits between the men and the glacier, as if the glacier is actively seeking to thwart their efforts.  It certainly feels that way to Stan.

When winter truly arrives, every day, every hour even, becomes a struggle to survive and retain a grip on sanity. I really felt I was there on the mountain alongside Stan but, of course, invisible to him, which makes his feelings of loneliness and attempts to ward off madness all the more poignant. At one point he observes, ‘I am surrounded by millions and millions of cubic metres, acres, tons of nothingness, void, absence’.

Interspersed with the story of the expedition are Stan’s memories of events earlier in his life: memories of rejection, loss, cruelty and violence.  However, Stan’s history of misreading situations or misinterpreting the feelings of others made we wonder how much I could truly trust his viewpoint.  The author challenged me to think about Stan’s real motivation. Is it the professional acclaim that will come from the discovery of possibly a new species of dinosaur, the achievement of a long-held dream, or a belated attempt to prove to his father that he is not the failure and weakling he was accused of being?

Sam Taylor’s translation expertly showcases the author’s wonderful turns of phrase. For example, the description of the valley from which the group start their climb as being an ‘eternal vendetta between stone and water’.  Or when, later in the book, the men awake to a heavy snowfall that finds them in snow up to their chests, the scene is likened to a ‘polar morning in Pompeii: our torsos floating on an ocean of powder, statues lost at sea’.

The low page count of A Hundred Million Years and a Day belies the power of the story it contains. As is often the case, the best things do come in small packages. My thanks to Isabelle Flynn at Gallic Books for my review copy, published today in a new paperback edition.

In three words: Powerful, moving, immersive

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Jean-Baptiste AndreaAbout the Author

Jean-Baptiste Andrea was born in 1971 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and grew up in Cannes. Formerly a director and screenwriter, he published his first novel, Ma Reine, in 2017. It won twelve literary prizes including the Prix du Premier Roman and the Prix Femina des Lycéens. (Photo credit: Publisher author page)

About the Translator

Sam Taylor is an author and former correspondent for The Observer. His translations include Laurent Binet’s HHhH, Leila Slimani’s Lullaby and Maylis de Kerengal’s The Heart, for which he won the French-American Foundation Translation Prize.