Upon Dark Waters is a visual and absorbing read. Essentially it is two stories braided together by the presence of the lead character. Thread one concerns the dangerous, arduous world of the sailors working the Atlantic merchant convoys in the winter of 1942 and the men of the corvette Daisy whose task it is to protect the merchant ships from submarine attack. The U-boats are hunting in packs and the short days and cruel weather have stacked the odds in their favour. Thread two, told in detailed flashback is the story of Daisy’s Sub-Lieutenant Michael Villiers. Born of a wealthy Uruguayan socialite mother, and an English Embassy worker father, Michael’s boyhood is spent on the family’s estate in Uruguay’s interior. The Pampas, the ethos of the gaucho and the rural Uruguayans have a strong effect on his developing character. When his father decides to return to England and send him to boarding school, Michael finds it hard to adjust and he never loses his passion for his mother’s country.
The two seemingly disparate story threads of the Convoys and Michael’s stormy life before joining Daisy are woven together with skill and panache – although the first jump from Atlantic convoy to life in Uruguay is something of a bolt from the blue. Once the reader realises that the novel is to be told in a series of flashbacks alternated with current narrative, the transition becomes much less of a shock.
The character developments and personal conflicts will keep the reader on the edge of the seat just as much as the gritty actions scenes. The landscapes of freezing Atlantic seas, the cattle-grazed pampas, the brittle, bright lights of Montevideo are all realised with a wonderful photographic clarity. The secondary characters, while having less space in the novel are all just as fully fleshed and real as those holding centre stage.
Although Upon Dark Waters is packaged to appeal to male readers with a resolutely grim front cover (blue) depicting convoys steaming through clouds of battle smoke, it is, I feel a novel that will appeal strongly to both sexes. Full marks