Depth of Revenge: A NovelDepth of Revenge

Author: Richard Golden
Year: 2009
Genre: Fiction
Reviewer: Neal Stevens

American nuclear missile submarines were developed after WWII as a deterrent against Soviet aggression. The Cold War was held in check by MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), a strategy steeped in risk but also one that worked. Imagine the Israelis, surrounded by hostile forces from Day One of their small nation's existence, being forced to activate their own MAD policy as fundamentalist Muslim states threaten with newly acquired nukes. In the world of jihad, martyrdom, and political instability, it's not difficult to imagine this standoff failing. Author Richard Golden's novel Depth of Revenge takes an unflinching look at the run-up and consequences of a failed nuclear standoff between Israel and Iran.

Depth of Revenge is a compact story told in a first-person, journal-style narrative. Israeli submarine Commander Gilad (who shares the name of Galid Shalit, an Israeli soldier currently held hostage over 1000 days  by Hamas) leads a select force of men in the Dolphin class (based on the German Type 209) submarine Tekumah. The novel reads like an account obtained through a casual interrogation or an after action report told in a smoky room. All the anxieties and determination of the crew of the Tekumah and the Israeli people are  channeled through Gilad's dry, efficient voice. There is very little dialogue between characters, and most of it is relayed to the reader through Gilad. The one exception to this technique is the addition of a female specialist aboard the submarine, though thankfully, Golden goes light on the romantic aspect which frequently cripples many war novels and movies.

Against a backdrop of breakthrough diplomacy between the Palestinians and Israelis, Iran picks up where Saddam left off and begins to flex its muscle. US warships have been sunk in the Persian Gulf by mines and the US executes a substantial counterstrike against Iranian airfields and missile sites. Iran, unable to strike directly at North America, targets Israel. Tensions escalate rapidly, far faster than diplomacy can handle. Before the reader has a chance to comfortably settle in, the Tekumah intercepts  a news broadcast with portentous  terms like "flashes of light" and "mushroom cloud".

Events of this nature always are such that you remember where you were and what you were doing. I expect you remember where you were, too. I'm reviewing the tests of the specific gravity of our batteries. One of the special officers, Danny, knocks on my cabin door. I can't even start to say 'shalom' before his mouth starts to quiver. No words form. He takes me to the radio communications headphones. He still quivers while I adjust the headphones. I listen to a broadcast news reporter interviewing people in Beirut, Lebanon. They tell the network anchor that people remain panicked regarding the two flashes of light from the direction of Israel. The anchor then recaps that most of Israel and western Jordan has been cut off from communications with the rest of the world. They are unable to reach their correspondents in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Amman, Jordan. They offer no reason for the flashes and communications failure.

Suddenly, with a chill that few books deliver, the reader knows, nuclear war is on. Armageddon has been thrust upon the Holy Land.

Captain Gilad has troubles of his own. His diesel-electric sub requires fuel, and is the subject of an intense search by enemies and friends alike. His crew react to the news that their loved ones and homeland have been hit with shock, rage, and depression. They are aware something has happened, that nukes have been used against them, and the uncertainty is such that their reactions vary, and Gilad struggles to retain order on his boat.

And there's the subject of retaliation. The whole purpose of Tekumah's existence in to supply a nuclear response if deterrence fails. With Israel being a small nation geographically, one of the salient points of Depth of Revenge is how a submarine captain can function if the Israeli heads of state are obliterated in a nuclear blast, which they most likely would be. Gilad opens the sealed orders that lay out in surprising detail, all the steps and elements that must be taken in consideration.  The Israeli sub commander does not have the luxury of sighting in on the vapor trails and returning fire. News and information are sporadic and sketchy. Who initiated the attack? How hard have they been hit? What Israeli offensive and defensive capabilities remain? What is America's response? How many missiles to hold in reserve? All these elements align to focus on the biggest unknown, explored in countless books, movies, and discussions:  can one man summon the volition to kill millions with a single order to launch?

A second Israeli submarine captain, in communication with Tekumah and Gilad, has his own agenda and approach. He's primed to reign fire down on Iran and let the chips fall where they may. Gilad favors a more calculated approach of punitive nuclear strikes without escalating the war and guaranteeing the complete destruction of Israel. What's the saying, whenever you have two Jews in a room, you have three opinions? In a somewhat amusing way, the two Jewish submarine commanders spend hours beneath the sea arguing through a password-protected Internet chat room about which enemy cities to wipe out.

Golden delivers an extremely thorough accounting of the weapons and submarine systems, lacking nothing in clarity and detail.  Techno-nerds will revel the in the deployment of scutter torpedo decoys, submarine operating procedures, and the way Golden weaves the hardware into the action without bogging down the storyline. Depth of Revenge is very much a submarine story, with all the tensions and tactics that are attendant with submarine battles, set against a backdrop so realistic, one might wonder if Golden has a visit from Homeland Security in his future.

What Depth of Revenge is not, is a wish fulfillment story; the carefully crafted build up to the novel's climax steers clear of heroics or sermonizing. Golden's novel is a sober, genuinely thought-provoking examination of the next September 11, on a vastly more terrifying scale, and will likely be regarded as prophetic in the years after theocracies like Iran develop their own nuclear arsenal. 



2009 SUBSIM Review