Reviewed by: Andrew Livsey
I read the first few pages of this book with growing frustration, the ‘hurrah for us’ and ‘aren’t we brave’ Americanisms jarring badly. I persevered though, conscious that the first duty of a reviewer is to read the book and by page ten I was hooked. Indeed, I devoured the whole thing in a single sitting, turning out my bedside light far later than is sensible for a sleep deprived father of two young children.
The tale is a simple one. Our author, Jim Howe, served 27 years in the US Coast Guard. The book tells us of his second complement appointment, as executive officer of a 16 strong crew. They take turns with others in manning 110 foot long surface effect vessels chasing drug smugglers out of Key West. A series of adventures are relayed, from finding drugs hidden in well disguised compartments to helping a defector leave Cuba and rescuing drifting merchant ships. Everyone is professional and works hard. After two years our author moves on, slightly older and wiser.
It is easy to sniff, but the adventures are good ones and have the ring of truth about them: as an erstwhile boarding officer and much else your reviewer has got into some similar scrapes. We all have our own dits but these ones are above average.
Character development is limited, no ill is spoken of anyone and messy runs ashore are glossed over. Duval Street in Key West, which many readers will recall through an alcoholic haze, is not mentioned. Wider implications such as the overall efficacy of their work as part of the war on drugs or the possibility that legalisation might be better than partially achieved prohibition are similarly unexamined.
Three things however occurred to your reviewer. First, parts of the US coastguard are clearly very good at searching for drugs and unless our training has improved markedly in the last decade we can probably learn from them. Second, the benefits of giving good people responsibility at an early age are many: their commanding officers were taking significant decisions while only in their fourth jobs, about the point our warfare officers are doing their first principal warfare officer tour. Finally, they had women at sea, predictably with no issues, in 1983. I wonder if we sought to learn from them when we eventually followed suit in 1990?
In sum therefore if you’re seeking an analytic work on the war on drugs or the US Coast Guard then look elsewhere. If however you want some well put together sea-dits that are pretty much true then this may be for you.