Margalith lived through a near fatal WWII navy incident that almost delayed the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and his debut novel examines the attendant errors that led to a loss of U.S. ships and nearly 800 lives. Because of a shortage of line officers and his valor at Pearl Harbor, Capt. Verne Cadgett has command of the flagship of an LST convoy across the Atlantic. The LST is an unwieldy ship, meant only for transport of troops and ammunition from larger ships to beach landings—a sitting duck when unprotected in open water. A rough-hewn Kentucky hillbilly with brilliant navy skills but no social acumen, Cadgett clashes with wealthy Bostonian Fleet Commander Bradford and his Annapolis-trained aide, Lieutenant Fitzpatrick, also onboard the flagship. Tensions between Commander Bradford and Cadgett escalate and reach the boiling point when the flotilla, a critical part of the imminent D-Day attack, heads for a beach landing exercise in the English Channel, where it is attacked by a pack of German E-boats. Margalith takes deft aim at creaky U.S. Navy tradition and British arrogance as he places blame for this avoidable debacle. Too much information about the characters' pasts hinders the proceedings and the surprise ending has less impact than it should, though the three men's rocky romantic lives are aptly portrayed and appropriate to the time period. There is a real story here—a credible exposé of a little-known episode in the latter days of the war—but the characters are mostly one-dimensional and an excessive reliance on dialogue means plot and action are shortchanged. (Mar.)
Forecast: This one won't do much on its own, but a film version with Dwight Yoakam is in the works, which should help sales eventually.
Release date: 03/01/2001