The Keeper’s Son

The Keeper’s Son is the first book in a series featuring officer Josh Thurlow. Homer Hickam has based this novel on his non-fiction Torpedo Junction (1989), which presents in accurate detail German submarine tactics off the Outer Banks early in World War II. Thurlow is haunted by a misfortune at age fourteen, when he literally loses his two-year-old brother at sea. Thurlow matures, leaves his native Killakeet Island, and joins the Coast Guard to serve in Alaska. When he returns home in 1941, his life is complicated by his aging father, the keeper of the island’s lighthouse. The recently returned Dosie Crossan, the bad seed of a wealthy family, becomes Thurlow’s love interest. Their intermittent romance resembles a 1930’s romantic comedy movie.

The novel is greatly enriched by the intense, realistic depiction of life aboard a German submarine. Otto von Krebs, the submarine’s commander and Thurlow’s nemesis, is the most complex character, due to his deep introspection and his resulting philosophies of family, love, and war. One of the few disappointments in this entertaining and suspenseful story is the reliance on stereotypes to depict some characters, especially the women. However, Hickam elicits genuine empathy for Krebs. And, the two captains chase each other with more fervor than Thurlow expends in pursuing Dosie.

The reader will delight at the sensual descriptions of the local ecology and the island’s eccentric population. Also, the tactics of the sea battles are very engaging, causing much anticipation of the Americans fighting off the Germans. The final chapters tidily resolve the relationships of captain to captain, woman to man, and father to sons.