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Code of Honor: A Novel of RADM Peter Wake, USN, in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War, Robert N Macomber, Naval Institute Press, ISBN 9781682477847, £24.00

21 Mar 23

It’s unusual to be asked to review naval fiction for The Naval Review. So, I was interested to read Mr Macomber’s story of the American VADM Peter Wake, the sixteenth novel in the Honor series.

For readers, who, like me, are new to them, Robert Macomber helpfully provides a Timeline of Peter Wake’s life. Born into a Massachusetts seafaring family in 1839, he joins the US Navy in 1863 and after an active war, elects to stay in the navy. He has a difficult career,  including being falsely charged with mutiny. At the age of 41, he embarks on his first espionage mission and in 1882, finds himself helping to form the Office of Naval Intelligence. Further adventures and romantic exploits then occur, and in 1889, he is sent to Cuba. Shunned by colleagues for the brutal tactics he uses to save his men after an ill-conceived, coastal raid, he expects to retire in 1901. Instead, he is asked by President Theodore Roosevelt to stay on, as a special, presidential aide, and is promoted to Rear Admiral.

So, you get the idea. An all-action hero of the pre-dreadnought era. I like the period and have already read and enjoyed naval fiction set in the same period, notably Philip McCutchun’s Halfhyde series and the more recent Dawlish Chronicles by Antoine Vanner.

Would I read more of Peter Wake’s adventures, though? Unfortunately, no. The book, written as if Wake’s memoir, has too many implausible events going on, at least in my opinion. In this one book alone Wake and his companions travel to Germany, where Wake meets the Kaiser and, with the unwilling assistance of his “…disarmingly beautiful…” Spanish wife, undertakes to acquire the secret, German plans for a war against America, from a disgruntled member of the Imperial General Staff.

The handover takes place in a St Petersburg theatre, where Wake and Maria are guests of the Tsar, at a Rachmaninov recital.  Here, Wake both meets Admiral Rozhestvensky and narrowly avoids a covert, assassination attempt on his life by an intriguing, minor noblewoman from Turkmenistan, who he, of course, has to kill, and cover up her murder.

Fortunately, he is invited by the Tsar to accompany Rozhestyensky’s fleet on its journey to the Far East. He thus leaves the scene of the crime, to observe the fleet as it struggles eastwards. Briefly leaving the fleet, he tangles with smugglers, before being instructed by Roosevelt to rejoin. He survives the Battle of Tsushima, ending up in Vladivostok from where he travels along the Trans-Siberian railway, amputating a wounded Russian soldier’s arm, and escaping mutinous troops on the way, before ending up on, and escaping from, the mutinous battleship, Potemkin. Eventually arriving back in Washington, he befriends and advises Count Sergei de Witte on how to honourably end the war. Later, he receives word from his old Okhrana adversary, Pyotr Rachovsky, claiming credit for saving his life by getting him away from St Petersburg and the Germans, who knew of his role in the theft of the war plans and the murder of their agent, and were out to kill him. Oh, and he is also  awarded the Russian Order of St George, for his role in bringing the Russo-Japanese War to a conclusion.

I may be doing Mr Macomber a disservice there, for which I apologise, but I was not engaged at all. There was just too much going on in Wake’s ‘ripping yarn’ to make him credible for me. I’m afraid I won’t be reading any more of the Honor series.