Josh Thurlow, a lighthouse keeper's son, lives on Killakeet Island located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. His family has a rich and colorful history as the only family that has "kept the light" at the Killakeet Lightstation.
Thurlow has lived a seafaring life, and now is captain of a Coast Guard cutter, the Maudie Jane, that sails the treacherous waters off the coast of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Josh and his ragtag crew aboard the Maudie Jane are drawn, somewhat reluctantly, into one of the fiercest and most underreported stories of WWII --- the attack of Nazi U-boats on the shipping lanes of the Atlantic directly off the U.S. Coast.
Josh encounters a worthy adversary in a German U-boat captain, and the story unfolds from both points of view as the U-boat attacks threaten not only the lives of merchant seamen, but also cruise ships and the lives of the Killakeet Islanders.
The story combines a dashing seafaring adventure filled with exciting battle scenes, romance and the local color of a large and entertaining cast of crusty characters inhabiting the small island.
Dosie Crossan, the daughter of one of the absentee owners who vacation on Killakeet Island, returns to the island just as the war breaks out and her childhood crush on Josh blossoms into romance as they fight the invasion side by side. The heroism of the home guard is portrayed in the fledgling Coast Guard crew whose only matching uniform garments are their knit caps. Likewise readers will see the tenacity of the German sailors who are embroiled in this battle.
The story of Josh and the war is told along with another in a separate, but equally moving emotional thread --- the mystery of the disappearance at sea of Josh's younger brother, Jacob, seventeen years earlier. Josh was responsible for this accident and he has spent years mourning the loss of his only sibling.
The stories are signature Hickam whose storytelling skill was honed in ROCKET BOYS, his autobiographical piece about growing up in the coal country of West Virginia, which later was made into the award-winning film, October Sky.
It should be noted that Hickam's first published book was TORPEDO JUNCTION, a nonfiction Naval history of the U-boat attack in 1942. THE KEEPER'S SON is the first in a series featuring Lieutenant Josh Thurlow and the U.S. Coast Guard. Readers will appreciate THE KEEPER'S SON for its vivid description of a World War II battle saga that many have overlooked as much as for its well-written prose.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 22, 2011
The Keeper's Son