DEAD WAKE, by Erik Larson, is by far his best book to date! I do not say that lightly as he is the author of more than one blockbuster. THE GARDEN OF BEASTS and THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY found him much notoriety, and well-deserved, at that. But, I discovered Larson many years ago when he penned ISAAC’S STORM. What a page-turner!
DEAD WAKE, is the story of THE LAST CROSSING OF THE LUSITANIA. My heart is pounding just thinking about this story. The repercussions of a “bad” decision to go ahead and cross the Atlantic “even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic,” were vast and horrific, and could have been avoided.
Told in the voices of the hunter and the hunted. The hunted: Captain Turner was the captain of the Lusitania, one of the greatest ships on the seas. And the hunter: Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, the U-boat that ultimately brought the Lusitania down.
May 1, 1915, the Lusitania, a luxury ocean liner, carrying a record number of children and infants, sailed from NYC harbor, bound for Liverpool. The passengers were anxious. Of course they were; after all, they were about to sail right through a live war zone, for God’s sake. I can not help but wonder why anyone would go through with this, especially those with children. But, on they went. And, six days later, the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland. The sinking was complete in 18 minutes. Devastating. Out of 1959 passenger and crew, only 764 survived, 123 Americans.
Erik Larson has done scads and scads of astonishing research. He says he decided to take on this project because he discovered so much that had never been published. He used personal logs from both captains which enabled him to get inside the heads of these men. He unearthed telegrams to and from the Germans that were intercepted and decoded by the British. Which brings up yet another topic: did the British know what was going on here? I think they did. Larson also came up with a huge German codebook. What a coup! Even more evidence that Winston Churchill and the British had cracked the code, yet, still did nothing to prevent this disaster. Amazing. Makes for a suspenseful and anxiety-riddled read.
This thrilling book told with vivid description is bound to be one of the hottest books of this year. Maybe the hottest. So much to speculate about. Was this a conspiracy theory to force America into WWI? Even though America did not officially enter the war for two more years. And why were there no escorts sent to accompany the Lusitania? All this and much, much more.
Larson throws in the glamour of the Progressive Era. And I loved hearing about President Woodrow Wilson, who was dealing with the loss of his wife, and then later with a new love.
We learn about the lives of both captains. They are beloved by their crews and families. They are both capable. And they are both looking out for themselves.
After watching TITANIC again, recently, I can’t help but wonder at the quick sinking of the Lusitania. After all, many of these passengers were already constantly on alert for some sign of trouble. Some even sleeping on the decks dressed and with life jackets.
I think you will find DEAD WAKE both entertaining and enlightening. And unforgettable! I know I did.
My review copy came from Crown Publishing Group. Thanks so much!