CriminOlly thinks: Reissue of a 1959 WW2 naval thriller that lacks any thrills. 2/5
Title: Submariner Sinclair | Author: John Wingate | Series: Submariner Sinclair #1 | Publisher: New English Library | Pages: 245 | Publication date: 23rd February 2021 (originally published 1959) | Source: Publisher | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: Yes
I’m a big fan of older thrillers and crime novels, and there’s certainly something kind of neat about reading a WW2 adventure written just 14 years after the end of the conflict. I haven’t been able to find out much about the author John Wingate, but given that the title page puts this letters DSC after his name (short for Distinguished Service Cross, a medal awarded to British military officers), I’m assuming he fought in the war, presumably in the Royal Navy.
‘Submariner Sinclair’ is certainly not short on convincing detail when it comes to life aboard a fighting ship. Unfortunately, what it is short on is thrills. Despite being packed with incident it’s a devastatingly dull book. Wingate throws his hero, plucky officer Peter Sinclair, into all sorts of scrapes – sea battles above and below the waves, a daring commando mission to rescue POWs – but he does so with prose that lacks any real spark. I failed to connect with Sinclair or the other characters. That’s something that doesn’t have to be a problem in a thriller, but it is a problem when there’s nothing else to grab your attention.
The book very much reminded me of a novel version of one of the ‘Commando’ comics. For the uninitiated, which is probably anyone who wasn’t a boy in the UK in the 60s or 70s, these were a seemingly endless series of one off WW2 comic adventures. I read many of them, but even as a kid I generally found them dull, despite their two-fisted action.
Like those comics, Wingate’s book lacks any nuance or depth. Brits and colonials (Australians and Canadians) are good,Germans and Italians are bad. There’s no grey area on either side, and the Axis troops are constantly dehumanised with racial slurs. They’re referred to by both the Allied characters and narrator as ‘Huns’ or ‘Wops’ almost exclusively. That’s probably not surprising in a low brow war novel from the 1950s, but it is disappointing that nothing was done to correct or at least contextualise the language in this 2021 reissue.
Combining that lazy nationalism with the leaden writing results in a book that fails to be entertaining in any way.
Britain is at war with Germany.
Responsible for protecting British convoys in the Channel in a small Chaser, young Peter Sinclair, R.N., is thrown head-first into the horrors of war.
Sent to serve in H.M. Submarine Rugged, defending convoys delivering food and supplies to the besieged island of Malta, Sub-Lieutenant Sinclair finds himself 120 feet beneath the sea, surrounded by deadly mines and just three miles from the enemy’s doorstep.
In a bold night raid on a small harbour on the north African coast, the famous ‘Fighting Tenth’ Submarine Flotilla comes under attack by enemy E-boats, whose relentless depth-charging threaten to sink Rugged to the bottom of the ocean.
When the Captain of a British submarine is captured, Sinclair, Able Seaman Bill Hawkins and a crack team of Commandos undertake a deadly mission to rescue the officer from a German-controlled prison on an Italian island.
But can they outwit a lethal enemy? Or will Sinclair’s first taste of submarine warfare be his last?
Content Warning: Racial slurs
Tolerance Warning: Nationalism