To Kill the Potemkin

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1968, the submarine USS Barracuda on special maneuvers in the Mediterranean, stumbles upon the Soviet Navy’s best kept secret--a prototype sub with a hull of titanium that allows it to move faster and run deeper than any vessel ever built. Shocked by the implications of such a ship, the U.S. Navy sends the Barracuda to find and photograph the phantom Russian in order to verify her existence. But the Soviet captain also has his orders; he must prevent the detection of the Potemkin at all costs. A high-speed chase into the North Atlantic results in a nightmare confrontation and a shocking resolution foreseen by neither side.

Although both the Barracuda and Potemkin are fictitious, submarines very like the American one roamed the seas in 1968, and the Russians may have built a sub with a titanium alloy hull. As realistic as are the submarines, so are the sailors who man them. Author Mark Joseph provides an unvarnished view of life in the “silent service” on both sides, with all its discomforts and dangers.

On the surface, this is a straightforward adventure novel with no intricate subplots, but several things elevate it above most action stories. One is the author’s matter-of-fact prose, which lends a chilling clarity, almost a journalistic authenticity, to the narrative. Another is the careful description of various submarine sonars. Instead of dragging the plot, these explanations provide a shocking backdrop for the action. When a sub is “pinged” by a powerful enemy’s sonar it has been “found,” and everyone knows, from the captain to the cook, that there may be nowhere to hide.

This is a fine debut for Mark Joseph, and a good read for even the most hard-core non-sailor.