BOOK REVIEW: Arctic Gambit

Arctic Gambit by Larry Bond (Near-Future Submarine Novel, 2019).

This one is the 6th or 7th of the author’s series of submarine-warfare-focused novels that revolve around ultra-skilled and heroic US Navy officer Jerry Mitchell. This one is set in the very near-future (2021) and, like many military thrillers, imagines a future ‘improvement’ on existing technology to create a more dangerous weapon that Mitchell and company must somehow overcome.

Thus, although these books aren’t ‘sold’ as science fiction, they really count as alternate history. In the timeline Commodore Mitchell and company exist in, Putin has been replaced by a different Russian strongman, also a product of Cold War-era KGB. This guy is, if anything, just a tad more reckless. To regain Russia’s many former possessions (the Baltic States, Ukraine and Georgia), he’s willing to launch outright invasions/open warfare. Even riskier, he’s ordered a secret underwater launch complex in the high arctic built for a combination super-torpedo/nuclear cruise missile. The idea is these undetectable weapons will be fired as a first-strike weapon against the US, killing off/crippling the American government. Sure, the US would try to retaliate, but in the confusion the rest of NATO might decide to concede these former Soviet areas, rather than risk what Washington, DC got.

The US (and its allies) know nothing of this new terror weapon. But whispers of odd levels of activity in the vicinity of ice-bound Bolshevik Island have caused an American submarine to come snooping around. That boat ventures too close and goes missing, courtesy automatic anti-sub torpedoes. One detail that strains credibility for me is that the Russians themselves aren’t even aware that this defensive system has fired on (let alone sunk) a foreign sub. Since keeping this base and its intentions secret till the moment it (and the Russian conventional forces tasked with re-taking control of the above mentioned nations) strikes, I find it difficult to accept that they wouldn’t closely monitor such a mine/torpedo field.

Putting that aside, this book is an exciting and involving military adventure. The USN’s top special purpose spy sub, the Jimmy Carter, is dispatched on a top secret mission to find out what happened to the ill-fated Toledo.

Carter‘s skipper and crew come back with the info that cost the other sub’s crew their lives, even as we witness behind the scenes maneuvering in Washington, Moscow and other places as a crisis develops and Russian President Fedorin’s staff fine-tunes their aggressive plans.

Jerry Mitchell is at this period an interested bystander (the Toledo‘s skipper was a personal friend who served with him), yet he hasn’t got a ‘need to know’ all the details. That’s till the new US President (Mitchell’s former commander in earlier submarine adventures) tabs him to oversee the Carter’s new mission — to sneak back into Russian waters and blow up the launchers. There’s some stress between the boat’s skipper, Commander Weiss, and Mitchell, since the former feels like his authority/command status is undercut by this higher ranking stranger aboard. But the men handle this with enough professionalism. Getting the job done and thereby heading off a massive war is more important than bruised egos.

Actually, the author (a former naval intelligence officer) portrays pretty much all the military figures involved (yes, including the Russians to some extent) as highly professional and capable, as well as believably human. Even Fedorin, though ruthless enough to risk WW III, seems at least somewhat understandable with his nostalgia for the past power and greatness of the Soviet Union.

I don’t have the personal knowledge of someone like Bond, but all the military details (not to mention the casually voiced jargon) feel accurate and well-handled. Of course, Mitchell and company will succeed in their desperate mission, the first-strike against the US never happens and Fedorin has to back down. Jerry Mitchell has again been a key part in actions that save the day, and author Larry Bond again lives up to David Hagberg’s description of the author as “The king of the twenty-first-century submarine thriller.”

One might wish that real-world threats and problems had such neat solutions, with the comparatively limited consequences of Arctic Gambit. But in any case, this is a fine adventure novel.

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