THE LAST SENTRY: THE TRUE STORY THAT INSPIRED THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
By Gregory D. Young and Nate Braden.
Naval Institute Press. 250 pages.
Tom Clancy, an obscure Maryland insurance agent neglecting business because he wanted to write, was nosing about in the basement of the Naval Academy library when he stumbled on a postgraduate thesis by a young U.S. Navy officer that described a mutiny on a Soviet warship called the Storozhevoy -- in English, the Sentry.
An idealistic Russian officer, 36-year-old Third Rank Capt. Valery Sablin, had persuaded a dozen officers and many in the crew to join him in taking over the Sentry in November 1975 and sail to Leningrad to spark a new Communist revolution that would revitalize an increasingly moribund Soviet Union.
That 1982 thesis, "Mutiny on the Storozhevoy: A Case Study of Dissent in the Soviet Union" was written by Navy Lt. Gregory D. Young, who was then studying for his master's degree in national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. Now, with co-author Nate Braden, Young has enlarged that thesis into this compelling, compassionate book.
Clancy wrote him asking to use some of his material. He asked Young to suggest unclassified sources on antisubmarine warfare. Clancy said he was writing a novel to be called The Hunt for Red October. The book was published in the fall of 1984 and, of course, launched Clancy on a multi-zillion-dollar book and film career. And Valery Sablin does turn up in the novel.
There are considerable differences between the actual mutiny on the Sentry and the defection of Red October. The Sentry was a guided missile anti-submarine destroyer; Red October a nuclear sub. Capt. Marko Ramius, Sean Connery in the movie, is defecting. Captain Sablin wanted a new Soviet Union. Captain Ramius shoots his political officer. Captain Sablin was the political officer on board the Sentry.
The Sentry was anchored at the Soviet naval base in Riga, Latvia, on the Baltic Sea. Sablin locked up the captain at gunpoint, took command and got the Sentry under way on the evening of Nov. 8, 1945, the 58th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Soviet naval commanders were alerted almost immediately. Everybody was scrambled -- from air and naval forces to Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet president. The pursuit of the Sentry was as thrilling as the hunt for Red October. Swedish intelligence monitors wondered if the frantic Russian radio traffic meant World War III was starting.
The Sentry was disabled by aircraft about 10:30 the next morning, and boarded about 21 miles outside Soviet waters and 50 from Sweden. Valery Sablin was executed about nine months later. The KGB judged him to be an irrational idealist. And perhaps the most amazing thing about the Sentry adventure is that Sablin was a dedicated Communist revolutionary among the colorless functionaries of the corrupt, cynical Soviet Union of Brezhnev.
BALTIMORE'S HARBOR HAUNTS: TRUE GHOST STORIES
By Melissa Rowell and Amy Lynwander.
Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 159 pages.
The authors of this book profess their belief in ghosts and spirits and assorted paranormal phenomena. So it's no surprise they find lots of ghostly activity around Baltimore harbor. They are, after all, proprietors of the Original Fell's Point GhostWalk.
It turns out you can hardly sit down at a bar anywhere from Canton to Fells Point to Federal Hill to Locust Point without some distressed spirit jostling your elbow.
Some of the more interesting haunts are the mysterious young man who vanishes at the tomb of William Fell on Shakespeare Street, Edgar Allan Poe, who even today seems to be a regular at the Horse You Came in On, on Thames Street, and Frank the Body Snatcher at Davidge Hall of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
One splendid piece of advice culled from this book: if you're confronted by a ghost, offer her, him or it Brach's peppermints. That's the favorite candy of the spirit world.
HAIRSPRAY, FEMALE TROUBLE AND MULTIPLE MANIACS: THREE MORE SCREENPLAYS BY JOHN WATERS
By John Waters.
Thunder's Mouth Press. 272 pages.
For better or worse, John Waters has created one of the contemporary images of Baltimore: big hair, bad taste and sleazy sex. When a Washington, D.C., publication did one of its perennial surveys of recreation in Baltimore a few weekends ago, it picked as guides Waters and David Simon, the producer-director of Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire, perhaps to strike a balanced view of the city with Simon's homicidal drug dealers and Waters' Divine as the murderous mom of Female Trouble.
Divine, Waters' late, much-lamented and inimitably ambiguous transvestite star, the purveyor of a Cavalcade of Perversions in 1970's Multiple Maniacs, is downright benign in Hairspray, a more mellow work of Waters' early middle age.
As Divine's character tells her husband, Wilbur, in Hairspray, "The times, they're a-changin'. Something is blowin' in the wind. Fetch me my diet pills would you, hon."
Hairspray, of course, has become a runaway hit on Broadway, winning a host of Tony Awards, including best musical and best performance by an actor in a musical for Harvey Fierstein, as the Divine character.
Waters has written a nostalgic introduction to these screenplays, recounting the whereabouts now of his stock company actors and crafts people. A surprising number are dead.
The screenplays themselves are a bit much to take at one reading. But Waters does get off good lines, many not even obscene: "Oh, mother, you're so fifties." ... "God! He's violated the oath of the friendship ring." ... "Here you will be taught by specialists trained in dealing with hairdo scofflaws in high school society." ... "This is East Baltimore, honey, not Greenwich Village."
Just be more judicious in nibbling at these scenarios than Divine was in her eating habits.
COURSE OF THE WATERMAN
By Nancy Taylor Robson.
River City Publishing, 192 pages.
This novel could hardly be further removed from John Waters' "cinema atrocities." Robson, who lives near Chestertown and writes a garden column in The Sun every two weeks, tells the story of a young man coming of age in a loving family in a close-knit and caring community of watermen and their kinfolk on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
At 17, Bailey Kraft is already an accomplished waterman who wants to spend his life on the river and bay doing the work he loves like the generations of Krafts before him. But his father unexpectedly announces that he wants him to go to college, and Bailey is stunned and angered. Fish and crab and oyster stocks are falling and with them the chance to make a livelihood on the water.
When his father dies suddenly, Bailey is thrust into manhood, working grueling hours on the water, crabbing with his younger sister, Sarah, helping his mother, Emma, make a living, keeping the family together.
Robson, who grew up on the bay and worked with her husband, a coastal tug captain, tells her tale with crisp, clean, illuminating writing that is wholly convincing about the daily dangers of the waterman's life. Her account of the search for a waterman in a boat missing in a raging storm is as gripping as Tom Clancy's thriller and much, much more humane.
Carl Schoettler, a reporter for The Sun, writes about books of Maryland interest.