Beside a Burning Sea
NAL, Sep 2008, $14.00
In 1942, the hospital ship Benevolence with five hundred filled patients’ beds is sailing the South Pacific near the Solomon Islands bringing medical assistance to sailors from both sides of the conflict as required by international law. Suddenly a Japanese torpedo hits the vessel ripping the boat in half. In the next instant, as the Benevolence is engulfed in chaos, most of the crew and patients die, but a few manage to make it to a nearby island.
The survivors include the captain, his spouse a nurse, another officer, an engineer, a Japanese prisoner of war, a second nurse, and a Fijian stowaway. Each has felt the horrors of war, but now must find a way to cooperate if they are to survive. However one of them is a traitor who has their own agenda defining survival quite differently than the others.
The key to this powerful WW II survivor drama is each cast member is fully developed with differing personalities and backgrounds; this leads to unexpected relationships as race, culture, social class, and war are explored through the interactions of the characters. Perhaps the only minor quibble is a traitor seems unnecessary suspense padding, as John Shors provides a deep historical character study.