Man Overboard, by Tim Binding, Book Review
In 1956 Commander Crabb, a decorated Navy Diver, a hero for the second World War, disappeared while examining the hull of the Soviet Warship Ordzhonikidze in Portsmouth harbour. His body, minus head and hands, was discovered in Chichester harbour a few months later. The MOD and government denied Crabb had ever been near the Russian Cruiser, that he had died while on a training mission in nearby Stokes Bay .
So why did Crabbs girlfriend express doubts about whether the body was actually that of the ex Royal Navy Commander? Why have the Official Whitehall Cabinets Papers on the matter been sealed until 2056? In his fictional novel, Tim Binding answers these questions and a whole lot more. He paints a vivid picture of Crabb, from his early years in the merchant marine, to joining the Royal Navy as an underwater UXB diver, his time in Gibraltar prising limpet mines off tankers, and to the disappointing years after the war, when Crabb becomes a part-time agent for the Admiralty, using his underwater skills to spy on Soviet Naval Technology.
Bindings chronology is mixed, so the reader discovers immediately that in this imagined version of Crabbs life he was captured by the Russians and forced to work for them, to start a Communist Naval Diving Unit, or be killed. Given this stark choice would we have chosen any different?
I particularly enjoyed Bindings writing where Crabb is in action in Gibraltar, you really get the feeling for the dangers that these divers were putting themselves into, the total lack of suitable equipment, yet their determination (in a very British Way) to get the job done.
I found some of the chapters a bit boring, namely Crabbs time in Venice where he falls in love, but because the timeline is all mixed up the reader is quickly back into the action and the book picks up its pace once again.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes novels like "Fatherland", imagined histories that might be slightly different to our own, and the subtle twist at the end leaves the reader in no doubt that Commander Crabb was a true hero.
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