Dead Man Launch by John J. Gobbell

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MWSA Review
Fascinating look at a time when the Cold War wasn't so cold

Billed as "historical fiction," John J Gobbel's Dead Man Launch would also certainly qualify as a thriller.  Crammed full of incredible detail, this book sits precariously on the boundary between historical fact and historical fiction.  The reader may often wonder where the historical facts start in the fiction begins.

The sixth installment of the Todd Ingram series, Dead Man Launch is set during the tumultuous period around the hijacking of the USS Pueblo in 1968.  As the story unfolds, the world tips ever closer to all-out nuclear war.  While the rest of the globe is focusing on the ongoing war in Vietnam, the U.S. and Soviet navies play a potentially lethal game of cat and mouse.  That deadly match-up of naval forces—above, on, and under the surface of the Pacific—provides the main backdrop for this story.  But the action isn't restricted to naval activities on that ocean.  The reader will also be transported to not-entirely-idyllic family life in southern Italy; desolate, snow-covered stretches of the former Soviet Union; a Turkish Black Sea port town, and a Mexican hacienda, to name just a few.

Gobbel's life experiences as a US Navy destroyer deck officer are evident in every page.  The details of life at sea: the language, the culture, the family ties and sacrifices, all fairly jump off the pages and lend an air of credibility to the novel.

Review copy had a few formatting errors—including a missing page—which detracted from this fast-paced and exciting story.

MWSA Reviewer: John Cathcart (March 2018)

Author's Synopsis

It’s 1968, a time when global upheaval seems the norm. The war in Southeast Asia rages along with prolonged civil unrest at home. Amongst this, turncoat Navy Warrant Officer JOHNNIE WALKER begins an extended relationship with the Soviet Union by selling top-secret crypto key lists to them to fulfill a voracious appetite for the good life. This prompts the Soviets to order their friends, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), to seize the USS Pueblo (AGER 2) steaming in international waters off the coast of North Korea. The Pueblo carries the KWR 37 coding machine, allowing the Soviets to read the codified material Walker had sold to them. Soon after this, the Soviet submarine, K-129, a boomer carrying three R-21 ICBMs with a 1,500 range, inexplicably disappears in the North Pacific. The desperate Russians cannot find her even though they mobilize nearly every vessel in their Pacific Fleet. Two months later, the USS Scorpion (SSN 589) sinks near the Azores. With each side blaming the other, 1968 gets worse as a frustrated President Lyndon Johnson gives up and refuses to run for a second term. But it’s not over. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy are assassinated two months apart. With the nation still reeling and grieving, the Democratic National convention iis disrupted by riots that August.

Caught in the morass is Naval Academy graduate Lieutenant (j.g.) JERRY INGRAM. Just out of flight school, Young Ingram is a is a freshly minted P-3 (4-engined ASW patrol plane) co-pilot assigned to a P-3 squadron in Sigonella, Sicily. En route to his first duty assignment, Jerry falls in love with RITA HERNANDEZ. A Mexican beauty queen who has made it big in New York’s fashion world. They settle in Sigonella and Jerry, who has squeaked by in life, due to the influence of his father, Vice Admiral TODD INGRAM, suddenly realizes he is involved in serious bustiness. He vows to bear down and make a go of it, as a pilot and as a husband. Instead, he comes home one night to find Rita in bed with MICHELANGELO RUGANI, a wealthy and handsome Italian ski-bum and Olympics wanna be who also represents the Rugani family’s Enzio line of Fragrances. Jerry beats the daylights out of Michelangelo and is censured by the U.S. State Department and the U.S, Navy for his trouble. Politics are in play as the Navy hangs an article 133 charge, conduct unbecoming an officer, around Jerry’s neck but whisks him off to another duty station to get him out of sight. With Jerry’s disappearance, a vengeful Rugani family (Poster- boy Michelangelo has lost three front teeth and has two broken ribs) sends Michelangelo’s body guard, Giorgio Michelleti, strong man of the Salvati Mafioso family, of Sicily after Rita who has taken refuge in her father’s vineyard high in the hills above Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Jerry is assigned to squadron VP 72 at Barber’s Point, Hawaii. From there and other bases, the U.S. Navy searches for Soviet submarines that seem to be popping up like ten-pins all over the Pacific. And he is uncomfortably close to his father who is commanding officer of the top-secret Fleet SIGINT Operations Control Center in Kunia, Oahu, Hawaii. Todd Ingram’s on-again, off-again friend is Soviet Navy Captain First Rank EDUARD DEZHNEV who he first met in 1942 (A Code for Tomorrow). They disenfranchised later that year when Ingram discovered Dezhnev was spying for the Soviet Union, trying to turn American scientists assigned to the Manhattan Project including his soon to be wife, Helen, then trapped on Mindanao. More recently, they re-kindled their friendship when Dezhnev helped save Ingram’s life right after Japan’s surrender in 1945 (Edge of Valor). Over the years, Dezhnev declines the invitation of CIA agent OLIVER TOLIVER to come over to the other side. Desperately earnest, he wants to somehow help change his beloved Russia for the better. But now, Dezhnev finally realizes his dream for the Rodina just won’t happen, that the Soviet government is too corrupt. Accordingly, he now spies for the United States. 

Eduard is proud of his son, Starshiyi Leytenant VLADIMIR UTKIN DEZHNEV, also a newly minted naval officer. Young Vladimir is highly regarded for his computer skills and is attached to the K-129 which sinks in the Central Pacific with all hands. Only Jerry Ingram, while on a special assignment aboard an American submarine, sees through the periscope what really happened to the K-129. In 1974, the forward section of the K-129 was secretly recovered by Howard Hugh’s Glomar Explorer via CIA project Azorian authorized by President Nixon. Ironically, the day the wreck was pulled into the Glomar Explorer’s moon-pool, is the day President Nixon was forced to resign. But artifacts examined in this portion of the wreck tell Ingram and Dezhnev, the role Vladimir played in saving the world from a major disaster.

ISBN/ASIN: StarboardSide Productions, ISBN 978-0-9839138-7-0 Create Space: ISBN  13:  978-1975895181 10:   1975895185
Book Format(s): Soft cover, Kindle
Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, History
Review Genre: Fiction—Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 383