448 pages. Five pages of maps.
If you know much about World War Two in the Pacific, then you probably remember that U.S. cryptographers were able to break the Japanese code, allowing the U.S. Navy to surprise the Japanese at the Battle of Midway (which turned the tide of the war).
The Last Lieutenant poses the question: what if there had been a Nazi mole among the American cryptographers stationed in the Philippines? Could he have escaped Corregidor with the secret and warned the Japanese?
The killer's code name was HECKLE. He looped his garrote around the sailor's neck and yanked. The sailor straightened to his tiptoes, then jounced while grabbing futilely at the cord crushing his windpipe. His hat tumbled into the restroom sink.
As the novel begins, we're introduced to the hell that is Corregidor - an island fortress in Manila Bay, under constant bombardment, soon to be assaulted. We're also introduced to two lieutenants - Dwight Epperson, a cryptographer about to be evacuated since he knows too much to risk letting the Japanese capture him; and Todd Ingram, commanding the battered minesweeper Pelican off Corregidor.
Chapter 2 (p.11):
They had thrown everything at her today. Mitsubishi A6M5 Zeros strafed from deck level, while simultaneously, Aichi D3A2 "Val" dive-bombers tried their best to kill her with screaming plunges from ten thousand feet. But the 1,250-ton Pelican twisted and turned in Manila Bay avoiding eight of those dive-bombers and all they could toss.
So that's the basis of the story: Can HECKLE tip off the Japanese, before Epperson and Ingram discover the mole? Will the chaos of the fall of Corregidor provide the mole with a golden opportunity, or can two lieutenants stop him?
I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but as you might have guessed from the book cover, there's also a submarine... and Filipino resistance fighters, a wounded aviator, a sadistic Japanese officer, a beautiful nurse, and eventually lots of action (I found the first part a little slow, but very atmospheric).
There's lots of inspiration here for skirmish scenarios, as well as a sense of what the siege of Corregidor must have been like.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .