Captain Josh Thurlow is back in a new World War II adventure,
packed with action and pathos. Fans will remember the feisty U.S.
Coast Guard Captain from two previous books. We first met Josh in
THE KEEPER'S SON as he hunted a wolfpack of German U-boats off the
Outer Banks of the Carolinas before the U.S. entered the war. In
THE AMBASSADOR'S SON, Josh and his crew were sent to the Solomon
Islands on a secret mission to search for President
Roosevelt’s missing cousin early in the war.
Captain Thurlow’s sea-savvy has been duly noted by Washington
after his action in the Solomons, and he is dispatched to the
Mariana Islands as an observer for Secretary of the Navy Frank
Knox. The Americans had met blistering resistance from the Japanese
in the bloody battle of Guadalcanal, and now the U.S. seeks to
secure the island chain to the east as a strategic stopping point
in the supply lines as they gear up for invasion of Japan. Late in
1943 the Marines are launching an assault of Tarawa.
Hickam’s earlier war stories have leaned toward storytelling
and character development in the early pages. Not so in THE FAR
REACHES. The opening chapters are filled with graphic,
action-filled battle scenes, as his impressive writing skills
chronicle a near-catastrophic battle early in World War II. Based
on recorded history of that battle, THE FAR REACHES aims a zoom
lens on the fighting men from both sides in what began as a fiasco
as the Marines tried to land under poor sea conditions. It is here
that Hickam injects his rich and colorful characters into the
Captain Thurlow, horrified at the carnage taking place during the
misguided landing, discards his observer role to jump ship and join
Meanwhile, Sister Mary Kathleen, a pretty, young Irish nun and her
retinue of “fella boys,” a group of South Sea Islanders
fleeing a prisoner-of-war camp on a Japanese occupied island, have
had the misfortune of being recaptured by the Japanese holding
Tarawa. They are sequestered in a bunker under guard beneath the
dunes of the small atoll and due to be executed. When the pounding
begins from the American warships offshore, their future is even
less certain as shells fall on the bunker.
During a lull in the bombardment, the nun and her fella boys crawl
out of the smoldering ruins to give aid to the few wounded Marines
still alive after the first unsuccessful beach assault. Among them
are Josh and his bosun, Ready. Josh, gravely wounded during the
landing, succumbs to a recurrence of malaria and is shanghaied by
Sister Mary Kathleen, who has a war of her own to win back on the
island she fled.
As the second wave of the 2nd Marines is gathering for what will be
a successful battle for the island chain, the unconscious Josh, his
bosun Ready, the determined young nun and three surviving Marines
are being rowed in three reed outrigger canoes by the nun’s
faithful fella boys back to the island group known as the Forriges,
or the Far Reaches, to help Sister Mary Kathleen exact her revenge
on her brutal captor.
Members of the crew find love, honor and insights into their own
human spirit as they go from hand-to-hand fighting on the brutal
beaches of Tarawa to an idyllic existence on an outlying island.
There, they finally confront the cruel Japanese warlord and the
lives of each are changed forever.
Hickam’s hero is strong, filled with zeal and brave in the
face of overwhelming odds as all heroes must be. His past books
have been laced with humor and hijnks by Josh and his unlikely band
of sailors, but THE FAR REACHES is dead serious and strikes a
darker note. The war has hardened Josh and the games are over. The
curmudgeonly Captain frightens strangers but doesn’t fool his
trusted friends. His tough crust still surrounds a tender core for
the men and women who are loyal and true.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 21, 2011