it’s rare that I actually have to plow my way through a book. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I was compelled to do with the highly-anticipated “Dead Wake.”
This WWI era, non-fiction thriller is at the top of all the lists except for mine (or so it seems). It follows the story of the Lusitania, the flagship passenger liner of the Cunard company based in Great Britain, on its fatal voyage from New York to Liverpool prior to the United States entering the war. Larson painstakingly takes readers on a journey as the ship is prepared, as the passengers come on board with their possessions, and as the ship heads into U-boat infested waters.
We are told of all the miscommunications, the stoicism of Cunard’s esteemed Captain Turner at the Lusitania’s helm, and the shrewd ruthlessness of Captain Schwieger, the German submarine captain who was terrorizing boats of all size and declared nationality in and around Ireland as the Lusitania left the safety of American territory. The build up to the two ships finally encountering each other could be enthralling, or, it could be tedious.
The characters on the Lusitania — many of whom were prominent American citizens, families with small children, and all of whom had great plans upon arriving in Europe — were certainly interesting. Larson gleaned much of his material from the survivors, giving us an inside look at the opulence of life on board and feelings of invincibility felt by the majority of passengers and crew.
I was overwhelmed by names. Passengers, crew, other boats, dignitaries and decision makers in various countries and at different levels of authority.. the names and facts were flying everywhere. The most enjoyable part of the story for me were peeks into Room 40, where British intelligence agents (who did not always report their findings to their own navy) were intercepting and monitoring messages monitored across the high seas. I also liked reading about how U.S. President Wilson was falling in love with his second wife and was very distracted as he did so, during this period in history.
Perhaps my lack of knowledge of naval procedure made this a tough read… perhaps it was the broad strokes used to depict so many people and stories instead of focusing on key players… or maybe I expected a page turner and was simply disappointed. The most accurate description I can give is to state that reading “Dead Wake” was much like watching “Titanic.” I knew the boat would sink, and I knew how, I just didn’t know it would take two hours worth of film (or in this case, over 200 pages) for it to happen.