Killing Ground

Written by Douglas Reeman
Review by Richard Bourgeois

Destroyer HMS Gladiator patrols the Western Sea in 1942–43, protecting convoys from packs of German U-boats. She is not entirely successful. The torpedoes always seem to get through, filling the seas with burning wreckage and sending thousands of men to the bottom. This brutal story is told from many points of view both British and German; in fact, maddeningly so. It’s dense with differentiable characters, jumping from one to the next without warning. The young sub-lieutenant in whose mind we spend the first twenty pages disappears for the next two hundred, returning for a paragraph or two before being forgotten entirely. Action is tense, but the plot is episodic and haphazard, one convoy escort rolling into the next. Jargon abounds; clearly the author has great knowledge of destroyer operations, but he neglects to weave it into a narrative that a reader can understand. I spent more than half the book thinking that “Gunner (T)” was a placeholder for a character the author did not pick a name for in time for the galley printing. Turns out he’s the officer in charge of torpedoes, and his name is Pym. Neither fact matters much in the end. Killing Ground is dense and unsatisfying as a novel, more useful as a technical reference on antisubmarine warfare.