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Tuesday, 5 November 2019

‘Launch Code’ by Michael Ridpath


Published by Corvus,
7 November 2019.
~ISBN: 978-1-78649699-7 (PB)


It’s November 1983 and the USS Alexander Hamilton is deep in the embrace of the Norwegian sea when the ‘Alert’ announcement echo’s through the submarine. In the radio room the EAM (Emergency Action Message awaits).  Although the Hamilton is Assistant Weapons Officer Lieutenant William M Guth’s first nuclear submarine this is his fifth patrol with his friend and fellow Lieutenant Lars da Silva.  This is the fourth EAM received and has raised the level of readiness for nuclear war to DEFCON 2, which is one step from launching missiles.

The final message that Bill Guth had dreaded. He conveys the message to the Captain ‘We have received a properly formatted message from the National Command Authority for a strategic missile launch.’ As they proceed with the steps to validate the authenticity of the message the tension rises. But the Captain’s announcement ‘This is not a Drill’ still comes as a huge shock. And then the general alarm sounds. 

For both Bill and Lars the target package makes no sense, but they cannot escape the fact that it is a properly formatted order, and their duty to obey. They bat the instructions back and forth between them ‘What if it’s an error?’ Finally, they turn to Lieutenant Commander Robinson without whose agreement nothing could happen. Robinson has come straight from a desk at the Pentagon and it’s his first patrol, but he does not waver. He said he had listened to their concerns, but we have a valid order, which we will execute. With the senior crew uncertain and all with the knowledge of what could happen if they launch the missiles, and if it is an error; that they will be responsible for starting a nuclear war. Protocol forbids them to transmit to confirm orders for fear of giving away their position. Feeling the growing unrest the captain requests Bill to fetch him a side arm…..

It’s November 2019 and Bill Guth is living in Norfolk, England and preparing to celebrate thanksgiving with his four daughters Alice, Megan, Brooke and Maya, and son-in-law Toby.  Bill tells them that a historian is visiting him that afternoon who wants to talk with him about the Navy in the 1980’s and would Toby like to sit in on the meeting. His wife Alice says he can tell her all about it afterwards.

Sam Brown, the historian seemed a pleasant guy.  He told Bill that he had published a book on the Cuban missile crisis, and he wanted to follow it up on a book about near nuclear-missile launches during the Cold War. He’s interested in what happened on board the Hamilton.  He had clearly done much research on the event but was probing Bill hard for more information that Bill said he couldn’t divulge. But he does invite Sam to share the thanksgiving dinner with the family. There are nine for dinner including Lars da Silva and talk flows about family matters and Sam’s investigation.  

Friday morning a visit from the police informs the family that Sam Brown was murdered last night at the King William pub where he was staying.  Aware of the reason that Sam was staying at the pub stretches the tentacles of the investigation back into the past. But just what did Sam know that got him killed. Toby meanwhile begins to wonder if he really knows his wife Alice as well as he thought he did?  One thing Toby becomes certain of is that there are many secrets.

The opening of this book is breath-taking. It really brings to the fore of the mind that while we work and laugh, there is always the possibility that the something or someone can do something that will end all our lives.  When I finished this book, I found myself saying Could it happen? Did it happen?  One thing is certain it’s a compelling read. Once you start reading it you won’t be able to put it down.
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Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Michael Ridpath was born in Devon in 1961 but brought up in Yorkshire. He was educated at Millfield, Merton College, Oxford. Before becoming a writer, Michael Ridpath used to work in the City of London as a bond trader.  He has written eight thrillers set in the worlds of business and finance. In 2010 he published the Where The Shadows Lie, the first in the Fire and Ice series featuring an Icelandic detective named Magnus Jonson. He has published four further books in the series.  In between the writing the series he has published three standalone novels the most recent being Amnesia in 2017. He lives in London. 


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