cover image The Last Lieutenant

The Last Lieutenant

John J. Gobbell / Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (360p) ISBN

Gobbell (The Brutus Lie), a former Navy lieutenant who served in the South China Sea in the 1960s, has fashioned a complex WWII thriller about events surrounding the American defeat at Corregidor and the subsequent victory at Midway, which turned the tide of the war against Japan. The tale is loosely based on South From Corregidor, Lt. Commander John H. Morrill II's 1943 factual account of his escape from the ill-fated island the night it fell to the Japanese. In June 1941, after murdering a U.S. Navy bugler named Walter A. Radtke in El Paso, a Nazi spy assumes the dead man's identity and winds up, nearly a year later, as an American cryptologist on the war-ravaged island of Corregidor. Because they hold crucial information about the American plan to defeat the Japanese at Midway Island, Radtke and his American superior, Lt. Epperson, are ordered to evacuate. Lt. Todd Ingram, skipper of the USS Pelican, which has been assigned to effect their rendezvous with a submarine, comes upon a mortally wounded Epperson and learns that Radtke has disappeared. As the Japanese overrun the island, Ingram takes 17 survivors on a desperate dash for freedom in a battered 36-foot launch. A subplot about war-thwarted musical careers and a miraculous reunion between Ingram and an Army nurse brutalized by a bestial, American-educated Japanese officer provides plenty of thrills and a poignant romantic twist. Gobbell's thickly inhabited page-turner successfully melds elements of espionage, classic combat heroism and carefully reconstructed historical fiction. Maps not seen by PW. (Aug.)