This is the 14th installment of Robert Macomber’s classic Captain Peter Wake novel series. It is the first with the author’s new publisher, and what a wonderful pairing it is to have such a fascinating series under the imprint of the Naval Institute Press. The series is also known as the Honor series, as that word appears in each of the titles.
Old and new fans of Mr. Macomber will appreciate the useful timeline of Capt. Wake’s life that sets the protagonist in his historical context and in the parameters of his unique values, skills and personality.
The author blends international politics, seamanship, strategic planning and technology into a succulent stew. Little else is succulent, however, in this wartime drama notable for undependable supply lines and a scarcity of nourishment.
What we have here, folks, is the Spanish-American War as adversaries battle for dominance in Cuba during June and July of 1898.
Capt. Wake is a proud patriot, always motivated to serve his country, but these days he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. After long years working up the responsibility ladder, he thought he had proven himself worthy of being given command of his own ship. But that didn’t happen. He has made too many enemies and — as a man who doesn’t mince words — there was little support for this former espionage specialist. No politician, he just didn’t have the right connections. After all, he was one of the few Navy officers who did not graduate from the Naval Academy.
Rather than driving a ship, Capt. Wake heads a small Navy team that is a liaison to the U.S. Army’s effort to free Cuba from Spanish rule. Reporting to generals who are orchestrating a joint U.S. and Cuban liberation force, he finds the Spanish forces estimable and discovers that the U.S. effort mixes clever initiatives with large measures of incompetence.
The captain’s story involves not only his perspectives and actions, but his remembrance of how effectively his old friend Theodore Roosevelt comported himself during this campaign. Indeed, Mr. Macomber’s portrait of the president to-be, filtered through Capt. Wake’s observations and judgments, is among the book’s many engaging threads, with unexpected comic elements to leaven the blood-soaked, storm-tossed, death-inviting narrative.
Similarly engaging is the appearance of Sean Rork, Capt. Wake’s best friend, a loyal subordinate and, often, a heavy drinker. What these courageous men suffer through puts readers into beautifully wrought but otherwise harsh and hideous scenes detailing the sacrifices that are made in the name of country and honor.
In part because their lives have many parallels, Capt. Wake respects his enemies while doing all he can to vanquish them.
The military engagement rocks back and forth, the upper hand changing for longer and shorter periods during the months of battle. The low point is when the captain becomes a prisoner held on a Spanish ship. However, he is treated well, according to wartime conventions, by the ship’s captain. The two captains knew one another in better times, and their mutual respect returns. The relationship between these two sailors anchors the book’s title.
The author’s handling of all aspects of his craft is truly impressive. Characterization (especially through dialogue), scene-setting, descriptions of action, descriptions of cannons and other technological factors, and representations of the severest types of deprivation are all sewn together in a stunning, panoramic canvas.
There is even room for a scene in a brothel and a sketch of the deep love and desperate longing between Capt. Wake and his wife, Maria.
Historically accurate where it needs to be, constantly inventive and vivid, and appealing in its insistence that there are such creatures as good men holding onto virtue in the worst of circumstances, “Honoring the Enemy” is first-class adventure with a heart, a soul and a brain.
About the author
Robert Macomber is an award-winning author, internationally acclaimed speaker, U.S. Department of Defense consultant/ lecturer and accomplished seaman. When not trekking the world for research, book signings or lectures, he lives in St. James City on Pine Island. ¦
Leave a Reply