David Poyer’s THE PASSAGE, the latest in his series of adventure novels about the modern U.S. Navy, offers page after page of exciting reading. At its center is the enigmatic Lieutenant Dan Lenson, a rogue officer who has seen his career falter because he has been more honest than circumspect in previous assignments. Now a weapons officer aboard U.S.S. BARRETT, Lenson discovers that what should be a golden opportunity to rebuild his career on one of the Navy’s newest high-tech vessels instead becomes a test of courage equal to that faced by any Hemingway hero. What he encounters in the ship’s initial test cruise off the shores of Cuba demands both personal bravery and a sensitivity far beyond that normally required of a junior officer.
What Lenson confronts seems to strain the limits of credulity. The ship’s crew is rumored to contain a number of homosexuals—including the captain. A mysterious computer virus infects the ship’s weapons control system, causing catastrophic malfunctions. When the ship is ordered to assist Cubans fleeing Castro’s oppressive government, Lenson ends up adrift in an Atlantic storm in a small boat where a pregnant woman goes into labor; a Russian destroyer rescues the American officer and returns him to U.S. custody. Meanwhile, a sinister spy aboard the BARRETT is undermining key members of the crew in order to lead a mutiny at a crucial moment when tensions are running high between the United States and Cuba.
Poyer is able to make such bizarre events believable because he has extensive knowledge of the navy and a sound sense of pacing and narrative which allow him to move dexterously from one exciting climax to the next. What is even more impressive is his ability to give his major characters some complexity and depth, so that readers develop both appreciation and empathy for the circumstances in which men like Lenson and his captain find themselves. For those whose tastes for good naval fiction have been honed on classics such as MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1932), DELILAH, and THE CAINE MUTINY (1951), Poyer’s novel will prove worthwhile entertainment.