Force 12 in German Bight
By James Boschert
It is widely known that through history proximity to water has always been a top priority, even when marine access near where settlements occurred gives way to roaring oceans and seas with conditions so brutal and unforgiving that we marvel at how anyone had the fortitude to face them at all.
The North Sea in particular, containing the world’s busiest shipping lanes, has never been known for its placid nature; even a brief query into logs and records reveals a long history of casualties of her rage—and not just sailors and other seafarers. In 1362, the Danish duchy of Schleswig lost an entire city when Grote Manndränke (“Great Drowning of Men”), gale-induced flooding, swept in from the sea, killing at least 25,000 people and dragging Rungheldt, and everything within, out to a watery grave. It is said that the city’s church bells can still be heard ringing in the area on stormy nights.
The forces that stir the waters are measured by what is known as the Beaufort scale, a system developed by Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, which relates wind speed and conditions of the sea into a standardized measure. Evolving over time to adapt to technology and land observations, the scale tops out at Force 12.
Within this setting author James Boschert sets the main events of Force 12 in German Bight, though the book opens with a hideous death on land, at London’s Paddington Station, where an electric train grinds to a halt and runs over the body of a man thought to have jumped in its path. Detective Inspector Steven Greenfield picks up the case, quickly determining the man was murdered before his body hit the rails, setting off a series of links that eventually take readers out to sea, embarking upon an odyssey none of our literary shipmates could ever have imagined.
Following a few scenes that introduce other characters to the novel, Boschert cleverly moves us out to sea, commencing our journey as a group of barge workers embark on their own latest dredging foray under the turbulent waters of the North Sea. Equally skillfully, the author sets the stage for later events and how the setting interacts with the characters and our own absorption of how it all unfolds:
“Patrick wanted to get off the deck quickly; he didn’t want to get in the way of one of the fifty ton cranes, which rumbled about on the wide, wooden-clad steel deck like huge dinosaurs, lifting cargo off the back deck of the tug, and swinging it up onto the larger vessel. Unless one knew what was going on, the upper deck of the barge was a dangerous place to loiter.”
One of a group of hard-living men who curse the isolation of their rough work space, Patrick spends some time re-acquainting with his cabin mate and socializing at a clandestine welcome-back party before assuming his night shift. Within these scenes Boschert simultaneously and seamlessly instructs and informs the reader of barge operations, various billets and the mechanism of constant breakdowns the vessel endures. He pulls the technique off expertly, and I was drawn in by the dialogue as it ran smoothly along it course, without a hint that it was actually pulling this double duty.
Some new readers may be tempted to cast Force 12 in German Bight as a “guy book,” given its setting, nearly-all-male cast and the male-oriented industrial lingo; this would be a grave mistake. The dialogue’s liquidity, soundness and intrigue drew me in to such a degree I found myself looking into certain terms—servo motors, gyroscope, winch room, for example—in order to place myself even more closely within the events of the story than I already was. This is a measure of how closely I wanted to align myself with these characters, drawn with such authenticity that I sought to know their world on the deepest level possible.
Finding myself gripping the book at times, I could indeed smell the sea air, feel the heavy diesel stink in my nostrils, hear the thunder of the machinery, visualize the droplets of sea shooting into the air, then pounding back down as people shouted at each other to be heard, while their movements compensated for the rise and fall of the waves that tossed their barge up and down with them.
Making his rounds that evening, Patrick discovers a dead body, the American Charlie, whose head wounds seem to indicate murder. He guardedly summons a comrade called Skillet and from here on out he and the men who gather around him are locked in a battle for the barge as well as their lives. Not only is an unknown murderer on board, but he is also part of a planned piracy excursion using the Cherokee as a go-between.
Given their location in the North Sea, an area in Danish territorial waters called German Bight, a region most prone to vicious storms, the Danish police are called in and here we meet Detective Inspector Erland Knudson and Assistant Detective Hedi Iverson. Boschert’s portrayal of these characters is so spot on it might be difficult to believe they are fictional. Knudson is smooth but realistically imperfect as he lets his subordinate take the lead to utilize the skills he’d seen her demonstrate before.
While the plot moves forward and the onboard, at-sea investigation evolves into a deadly game of cat and mouse, Iverson occasionally betrays her anxiety at her foray into what is typically male territory, but without losing either her credibility as a strong female detective or her dignity. Boschert has no need for a token female and Iverson never regresses into being one. She had assumed masks as all police do, but she’d never claimed to be anyone other than who she was. This unpretentious role will indeed attract more female readers, but with an endurance that goes far beyond the mere appearance of a woman character.
As events unfold, more information is divulged to readers than Patrick and his group as they stealthily aim to take back their barge and bring it to safety. At some intervals Patrick stumbles upon information that enables him to catch up to us, or at least get closer, though he has a few tricks up his sleeve as well, performances carried out while we are taken elsewhere or as we look away.
Forced up against the pirates’ superior position as well as their determination to carry out their nefarious plans, Patrick and the others must utilize their previous hard-living habits, not anymore as façade, but virtually a lifeline.
Ruthless, anonymous pirates aren’t the only challenge Patrick faces as the storms outside batter away at their “rust bucket”; radio communications are poor to non-existent and conditions in the German Bight become truly fearsome.
“German Bight. Wind: south nine to ten, backing ten to gale eleven, perhaps severe gale twelve later in the day. Seas: rough with waves in excess of forty-five [feet] or more. Rain: squalls and storms, possible hail. Visibility: low to poor.”
It is in conditions such as these, with horrific death beckoning from just over the rail, that sailors’ superstition can arise, especially given the understanding these men have of the sea, a most unforgiving mistress. They would certainly have known of the lands previously turned into islands, coasts broken to bits and a city such as Rungheldt, swept in its entirely under the sea by the Grote Manndränke all those years ago, though by no means had that been the last casualty.
“The hair on [Patrick’s] neck began to rise and he felt a cold chill pass through him, because what he saw was a ship. Not a modern steam ship, but a sailing ship of pure white with all sails set, and it came straight at them. Shit! “The Flying Dutchman”!
The ship flew towards them in eerie silence while he clutched the rails. He remembered what the legend said: The Flying Dutchman was a portent of disaster for ships and sailors who beheld it in a storm, for when they did their ship was in grave peril and would go down with all hands.”
As he and others battle with pirates as well as their own fear—of natural forces and human agents of evil—contact with land authorities is sporadic as those back in London become aware of certain activities, though not necessarily the connections between them all. Boschert knows exactly how to spin a yarn and draw gasps from readers who will find themselves unable to lay the book down. Throughout history the sea has captivated many, and Boschert effortlessly uses its allure to reel us in with a thrilling tale that ranks along with the very best in the industry. Readers will thrill, marvel, sweat and cheer as a delicate balance of anticipating and acting must be undertaken, and there are no second chances.
For book lovers of all genres, Force 12 in German Bight is a top-notch thriller that will take you to a world you may or may not know. Its gripping narrative will hurl you around with the storm as you follow the characters in their aim to best those who would destroy them first.
James Boschert’s unique biography has provided him with an in-depth knowledge of his novels’ subjects. He grew up in the colony of Malaya in the early fifties during the turmoil of a Chinese Communist insurgency. He joined the British Army at fifteen, and from eighteen to twenty-two fought in the jungle wars in Borneo and Malaysia. Afterwards, Boschert lived in the Middle East, serving in countries such as Oman, Lebanon, Israel, and finally Iran where he worked with the Shah Pahlavi’s army. When the 1978 revolution overturned the Shah, Boschert negotiated a perilous escape from Iran, returning safely to the United Kingdom.
As a civilian, Boschert has worked as an engineer on a tanker in the North Sea and as optical engineer involved in the development of laser telescopes at the National Ignition Facility in Lawrence Livermore, California.
James Boschert is the author of the popular Talon Series. Set in twelfth-century Palestine, Talon‘s adventures include: Assassins of Alamut; Knight Assassin; Assassination in Al-Qahirah; Greek Fire; and A Falcon Flies. Boschert has also written When the Jungle is Silent, a novel about the 1960s jungle wars in Malaysia.
The reviewer received a free copy of Force 12 in German Bight in exchange for an honest review.
This post was updated to include reviewer’s notation about copy acquisition.