C. S. Forester may be best known for his Horatio Hornblower series, but this book deserves some attention as well. I am astounded by Forester’s ability to create a sense of narrative tension despite an utter lack of action or dialogue in the entire first chapter (which really feels more like a prologue in some ways). This is a book I thoroughly enjoyed despite the sad overarching theme of a man who is very devout yet has no joy or peace. I enjoyed it not only for the story but also for the rhythm of the writing and the picture it painted of life at sea hunting German submarines among friends and allies and men one is never sure one can completely trust.
There is some profanity, which I only expected, but I was pleasantly surprised that there was as little as there was. Much of the tension in the story was built around small, everyday concerns like the need for food and warmth—is he finally going to get the chance to put his overcoat on before someone else radios for him?!—which felt strangely momentous against the backdrop of naval warfare. It takes a talented author to make me care if the hero is going to get his coffee before the next U-boat comes, and Forester did it well.
None of that is to detract from the actual naval warfare scenes, which were executed in vivid color by just the right amount of detail and a thorough command of naval terminology and dialogue (not that I would know from experience, but it sounded right). Krause’s character as a leader and decision-maker shines in these parts of the story. He’s a compelling hero, a tragic figure in many ways, yet also inspiring and courageous. The bits of Scripture verses dropped in as part of his internal dialogue were a nice touch that really gave the “feel” of what kind of man he was, even though several were out of context for the situation. In a way, this book is a sort of warning of what a religious life can look like without the living power of Christ to give joy and peace. Krause is dedicated. He is devout. He is horrified by sin in himself and the thought of failure. And at the end of it all, he is terribly empty, at peace only in sleep. May that never be the picture a writer could paint of any of us.
The edition of this that I read was titled Greyhound, as a spin-off of the movie version, which I haven’t seen. I understand why Hollywood decided to change the title, as it has a better ring for a WWII naval thriller, but I really think The Good Shepherd represents the story so much better, as Krause shepherds not only his men but an entire convoy across the Atlantic. Under either title, though, this is a great read for those who love naval history and want a fictional look at a war that had been over for only a very short time when this book was written.