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The Gulf by David Poyer
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The Gulf (original 1990; edition 1991)

by David Poyer

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912132,676 (3.63)1
Member:ABVR
Title:The Gulf
Authors:David Poyer
Info:New York St. Martin's 1991
Collections:Read
Rating:**1/2
Tags:naval fiction, Persian Gulf, Middle East, read in 2012

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The Gulf (Dan Lenson Novels) by David Poyer (1990)

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The Van Zandt is a naval frigate on convoy duty in the Persian Gulf at a time when the Iranian War is in full swing. The new captain, Ben Shaker, is determined to avoid a repeat of the loss of his earlier command, a destroyer that was sunk by an Iranian missile. Men had died because they were wearing the new, sharp-looking polyester clothes that melted onto the skin during fire fighting, and had their feet horribly burned because they had abandoned the standard leather shoes for the more flammable cordovan that held a shine better.
Dan Lenson, a character from an earlier novel (The Circle) and maybe the unluckiest officer in the Navy, having survived an Arctic sinking and the attendant inquiry, is the XO on the Van Zandt. Shaker is out for revenge, and that leads to a confrontation between Lenson and Shaker as the ship becomes a pawn in U.S. gunboat diplomacy.
Interestingly, readers at Amazon.com validated my observation that if you like Tom Clancy, you will not like Poyer. Clancy is much more escapist, whereas Poyer attempts to realistically portray what it is like working on a naval vessel during the late 20th century. Poyer is a former naval officer, and the books reflect that. A scene describing the fire-fighting efforts after a ship has been hit by a missile washorrifyingly realistic. Clancy hasn’t delivered since The Hunt for Red October, which was great, and he’s become a mere shill for the high-technology, can’t-do-anything-wrong-superman military. As one reader noted: “Clancy is escapism. Poyer is life.”
Another character is Blair, an investigator for Senator Talmadge on the House Armed Services Committee. She’s in the Middle East on a fact-finding tour, trying to decide if the billions being spent on the Navy are being appropriated for the right kind of equipment. The major threat to the shipping lanes is coming from small torpedo/gunboats that don’t even show up on radar, and can scurry back to safe ports in Iran or Iraq. As a result of their harassment, insurance rates are escalating for tankers going through the Straits of Hormuz, and the Navy seems unable to do much about it. There are also rumors of a small submarine that is unaccounted for. It was purchased by Iran from Germany, but can’t be found where it should be, and sonar does not work well in the shallow waters of the Gulf.
Then there is the human element. The captain of the Van Zandt has his own grudges, one of the corpsmen is handing out drugs to make friends and feed his own addiction, and the helicopter pilots have personal problems of their own. Despite his loyalty to the captain, when Lenson discovers the captain and the gunnery officer attempting to override the safety mechanisms and fire off a nuclear missile at Iran following the destruction of the ship's helicopter by an Iranian gunboat, he aborts their efforts. That leads to an investigation and a suicidal retaliatory raid on a hidden Iranian port by the Van Zandt and another American destroyer.
Pure escapist fiction, but it's hard to knock nautical realism. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
The Gulf tries to be at least three different things: 1) A naval procedural about life on frigates and minesweepers -- the vital, unglamorous “small ships” of modern naval warfare ; 2) A sprawling, multi-stranded chronicle of U. S. naval operations in the Persian Gulf during the closing years of the Iran-Iraq War; 3) A chapter in the ongoing chronicle of the career of U. S. Navy officer Dan Lenson. It is, in short, hugely ambitious. It would take a superb writer – a C. S. Forester or a Patrick O’Brian – to integrate the three stories successfully, and David Poyer is merely a competent one.

The naval procedural – centered on the frigate Turner Van Zandt and the minesweeper Audacity – is, by far, the most successful of the three stories. Poyer uses his own experience as a surface-warfare officer to good effect, bringing to life the rhythms of shipboard routine and the complex web of relationships that binds the crew. He captures the feel of the Persian Gulf equally vividly: the smothering heat, the grittiness of blown sand, and the unnatural warmth of the water. The drama built around the larger naval campaign is intermittently effective: gripping in the small moments of confrontation, but unconvincing in the big set-piece battles, which too often seem dictated by the demands of the plot rather than by any real-world strategy.

Lenson’s story, by a wide margin, works least-well and least-often. Part of the problem is Lenson himself: a hero too blandly two-dimensional to engage the reader or generate sympathy or interest. Clearly meant to be a Horatio Hornblower or Richard Bolitho for the 20th century, he lacks both their verve and their vulnerability. The book’s least convincing (and least necessary) subplot, involving the captain of the Van Zandt and his thirst for revenge against the Iranians, seems shoehorned into the story in order to provide Lenson with a career-defining crisis in the midst of a story that wouldn’t otherwise provide one. Later in the story, for the sake of giving Lenson a love interest, Poyer transforms the book’s only significant female character – Congressional staffer Blair Titus – from a tough, competent professional woman on a mission to a simpering girlfriend anxious about Her Man’s safety in battle.

Poyer, to be fair, faces a significant challenge in writing his tales of the modern U. S. Navy: the lack of a full-blown war to provide life-or-death challenges for his hero. C. S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian had the wars against Napoleon, Douglas Reeman had World War II, and Stephen Coonts (Flight of the Intruder and The Intruders) had Vietnam. Poyer is forced to make do with the “little wars” and politically constrained interventions of the eighties and nineties. It’s not an insurmountable problem, but – in The Gulf at least – Poyer still hasn’t figured out how to solve it. ( )
1 vote ABVR | Dec 18, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312925778, Paperback)

Defense policy makers from Britain and the Gulf analyze different aspects of British policy and its repercussions for Gulf security. Seeking to nurture defense and security dialogue, contributors examine both immediate and potential threats to Gulf security and underline the need for the Gulf countries to develop a greater range of consultative mechanisms. This book offers valuable perspectives on some of the more critical issues involved and provides interesting insight on the views held by prominent decision-makers, including Lord Robertson, General Sir Charles Guthrie, HH Sheikh Salman of Bahrain and HH Sheikh Salem of Kuwait.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:28 -0400)

A U.S. destroyer is hit by an Iranian missile in the Persian Gulf. A conflict seems inevitable.

(summary from another edition)

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