The Aden Effect

  • Claude Berube
  • Naval Institute Press
  • 272 pp.

In this fast-paced tale on the high seas, a Navy man dishonorably discharged is called back into service for an operation in Yemen.

Reviewed by Phil Harvey

Claude Berube and his hero, Connor Stark, are Navy men through and through, and this novel of adventure on the high seas shows it. To start with, much of the action takes place on U.S. Navy warships and helicopters in and over the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

The author’s passion for things naval continues, shining through the text and lending it a level of authenticity that is both engaging and awkward. Engaging because Berube’s descriptions of sea battles are nicely drawn, suspenseful and satisfying. Awkward because the jargon can be both repetitive and confusing. While such terms as XO, CO, OOD, RSO, OPS and WEPS are spelled out once, they are used repeatedly and begin to choke the reader as the story gallops along. And RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) seems an awkward designation for vessels that play a key role in many of the battles.

Never mind. Connor Stark, court-martialed and dishonorably discharged from the Navy some years before the story opens, is hijacked back into service by the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, a feisty and attractive woman known as C.J., who believes Stark holds the key to her plans for U.S.-Yemen relations. Stark’s court-martial offense remains murky, but we are led to believe that he did something decent and useful that just happened to be against the rules. Stark is that kind of hero, and a good one. He is tough, occasionally obstinate, but sympathetic.

The novel’s opening sequence in Scotland, with Stark the target of Somali pirates, is especially well handled, with a Clint Eastwood make-my-day improbability and an ending when Stark is saved from the murderous intentions of the last of the four pirates (he has killed the other three) by an oar-wielding redhead. Those episodes, exaggerations and all, work well and keep us reading.

But some of the premises of the plot are weak. In the context of the action it sparks, the ambassador’s objective seems minor; her presumed reason for shanghaiing Stark back into U.S. government service is to convince the Yemeni government  to put a few of its warships to sea and at least pretend to protect its (and an American company’s) oil platforms. Stark, who becomes Commander Stark and has been through a court martial, has apparently not learned that American civilians cannot be forced into the military against their will. And while I was long ago convinced that the shenanigans of Washington politicians are profoundly self-serving and often contemptuous of the public, I am not quite prepared to believe that a U.S. president and his chief of staff would casually plot to sink a U.S. Navy warship with all hands on board in order to enhance the president’s chances of renomination (no political party named). Another false note sounds when the “good” guys subject a vicious killer to especially grisly forms of torture,  displaying a sort of moral ambiguity (turpitude, really) that is out of place in a story like this one.

But, again, never mind. The book takes you by the lapels and yanks you in. The story is fast-paced and moves smoothly from Scotland to Maine to the Gulf of Aden, with a bucketful of murders and reprisals in every location. The bad guys get their comeuppance, usually with quick, clean kills. And both Stark and his more thoroughly civilized colleague, security officer Damien Golzari, are believable characters who play off each other effectively, adding character depth and good humor.

If modern-day high-seas adventure is your cup of tea, just add a thick twist of suspended disbelief and sip away.

Phil Harvey’s short stories have appeared in 15 publications. His new novel, Show Time, was published in May.

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