The Passenger

Written by F. R. Tallis
Review by Kristina Blank Makansi

Siegfried Lorenz, captain of the U-471, a German submarine patrolling the frigid, stormy waters of the North Atlantic, is an excellent sailor and credit to the Fatherland even though he does not believe in the war and has nothing but disdain for Hitler. When the U-471 receives top-secret instructions to pick up two prisoners from a ship near Iceland and transport them back to port in Brest, he dutifully follows orders. However, once the prisoners – a British submarine commander, Sutherland, and a Norwegian academic, Professor Bjornar Grimstad – are on board, their behavior spooks the superstitious crew. After Sutherland makes an unexpected move, things on the ship begin to go sideways as one accident after another threatens the crew’s safety. Men start hearing voices and seeing things that could not possibly be real and British forces seem to be waiting for them every time they surface.

F.R. Tallis does an excellent job of evoking the claustrophobic feel of living in a metal tube with a thousand feet of water pressing down on you. I’ve read and edited several books about submarines and submarine warfare (and my brother served on a nuclear sub in the U.S. Navy) and find the subject fascinating. In a submarine, the only thing separating a tenuous life underwater and certain death in the abyss is the vessel’s thin metal skin, and in Tallis’s tale, the only thing separating sanity and madness is the thin line between the conscious and unconscious. Are the voices real? Are the visions real? Are the disasters befalling the sub mere accidents or something altogether more sinister – and more deadly? With every page turn, I rooted for Lorenz and his crew and recommend The Passenger to readers who enjoy a healthy serving of impending doom and growing dread with their World War II fiction.