A few months ago I encountered the Danny Jabo submarine series, written by a nuclear subs veteran. As I’m still in recovery from surgery this week, I’ve been finishing the series!
First up, Zulu Five Oscar. Zulu opens with a minor character from the previous novels, Hallorman, being tapped to execute a security drill aboard three submarines in drydock. Topside security has been a little wanting lately, so command wants Hallorman to see if he can bluff his way onto the boats. Hallorman is due to take a station on the third submarine, so after successfully infiltrating the first two subs, he intentionally fails his third approach — only to be shot at by the overstressed officer on duty, leading to a little shifting of the command structure aboard the boat. The XO is sacked, and the twice-accomplished Danny Jabo is assigned to take the position. While on a routine cruise, one of their men suffers a death in the family, and when they return to port they expect to be met by the base chaplain. Enter the second half of Zulu’s story, as a defrocked Jesuit priest turned war protestor is anxiously hoping for the chance to sneak into the base and destroy a nuclear missile as a protest against nuclear arms. Hope everyone is still up to speed on their anti-infil measures! Tucker’s temporal setting has always been a little fuzzy, but I’m given to place it in 1991 or 1992; Colt 1911s are still being phased out (boo, hiss) in favor of Berettas, and the Bush-Gorbachev START treaty is referenced.
Lastly comes Covert Duress, in which now-commander Jabo, captain of his own boat (the USS Pittsburgh), is tapped to serve aboard a Pakistani diesel sub as an advisor, alongside a Pakistani commander who went to school at Annapolis, training alongside the men and women of the US Navy and Marines.. Jabo is asked to serve aboard the PNS Khalid, commissioned in 1999 (….okay, I give up trying to figure out these books’ timeline). The United States and Pakistan at this time have closer ties, both because India hasn’t lost its reputation for being a Soviet client, and because the stresses of 9/11 and the Afghan invasion have not yet happened. The Pakistanis are on a mission to covertly destroy a ship leaving an Iranian harbor with mysterious barrels aboard that are thought to be weapons which will be used against Pakistan or her allies, the US included. While Jabo is providing technical assistance to the Pakistanis (which mostly consists of hanging out on the bridge and providing feedback when asked), his own ship is undergoing a safety test that could put it out of action for a year if anything goes awry. This book is even shorter than it appears because several chapters are excerpts from the fictional WW2 submarine memoir, Rig for Dive, which Jabo re-reads to acquaint himself with diesel sub operations. Rig for Dive featured prominently in the first Jabo book, inspiring the crazed officer who attempted to destroy the Alabama.
Both ‘novels’ are very short, around 150 pages, and in the case of Covert Duress, the plot isn’t terribly dramatic. Tucker’s writing has its attractions, though, with a good bit of humor and all the detail any reader could ask for. Ultimately that’s the draw of these books for me; naval stories are an interest of mine, but my knowledge of naval operations crashes to a close in 1945, so seeing how modern ships operates is appealing to me. Aside from the temporal inconsistency, Tucker cleaves very close to the facts; if he mention a ship or base it’s almost certainly a real one, including the USS Shippingport which is used to dry-dock submarines. The books are a treasure-trove of info on submarine operations.