I love stories of maritime disaster. I love tense, sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat action stories. And this audiobook was only four-and-a-half hours long! Surely this would be a great listen? And this book did provide some action so tense that I literally gasped out loud when I was listening to it. But I almost didn’t finish listening to it. This book is like the best deli meat you’ve ever had, sandwiched between stale knock-off wonderbread with spots of mold on it.
It starts out giving descriptions of the men of the coastguard who were involved in this daring rescue. It felt like a giant heap of backstory, when I had no reason to care about any of these men. I remembered bits and tidbits of the story, but they all kind of jumbled together. There were just too many of them, and I didn’t know which ones would be important. Also, they all had fairly similar backgrounds; working class white men of the mid-20th century who loved the sea. There were differences between them (this guy came from one city, this came from another, this one married his high school sweetheart, that one had his father die) but honestly they all kind of ran together. I had no reason to care about any of them.
After the first hour of just backstory, I considered just deleting the book unread. I might have, since I’m learning as I get older that life is too short for boring books, but I only had three and a half hours left and deleting it bothered my sense of completion. So I gave it another chance. About forty minutes later it started to get good.
The middle was breathtaking. The actual description of the rescue attempts made me cringe and cheer and wince and shriek in alarm. I was absolutely enrapt in the action, though because there were multiple ships and multiple rescue boats involved I got a bit confused as to what was happening. Too many characters, too many vessels. And then after the rescue, the book once again slowed down to a crawl as the author discussed the aftermath of characters I couldn’t keep straight.
If this were a novel I’d say that the author should pick one or two main characters and follow their arc. If it were a novel, I’d suggest making it about one rescue of one ship, not several rescues of two ships which had each broken in twain. I would certainly advise against the first third of the book being an infodump about people we did not yet have any reason to care about. And if it were a novel, the story would wind down much, much faster after the rescue, not have another 25% of denouement. It’s not a novel, it was a non-fiction about a real event, so I’m not sure how to improve it as the author was constrained by the material.
I hesitate to recommend this book. The middle part was five stars. The beginning and end were one stars. If you have a paper version, skip the beginning and the end and just read about the rescue. You won’t be able to keep all the characters straight anyway.