This is a superb novel of the sea -- the turbulent, brutal story of the last days of a battered German merchantman, the Gertrud Lüth. It is a remarkable book of its kind, written with a deep understanding of the sea and seamanship and also with a fine appreciation for character and violent action.
Grossly and dangerously overloaded, and short of experienced crew, the Gertrud Lüth sailed from Singapore with a dying captain in command. The First Officer, Karl Schepke, had been on the beach in Singapore for nearly three years after being blamed unfairly for the loss of a ship. With the death of Kapitän Emmerman, Schepke assumed command of the unseaworthy vessel, and found himself contending, in turn, with sabotage, fire, and loss of communications, a typhoon, shifting deck cargo, panic in the engine room, and a shortage of fuel. Eventually, he was able to breach the foundering ship successfully near Hong Kong.
Although cleared by a formal enquiry, Schepke's employers blamed him for the loss of a second ship. Faced with going on the beach again, Schepke accepted the offer of the new Chinese owners to command the salvaged and reconditioned Gertrud Lüth.
According to an old Chinese proverb, lightning never strikes the same tree twice. Nevertheless, the luck of the Gertrud Lüth continued during the voyages in and out of various ports of Red China carrying "light machinery" in trade for expensive wool from Mongolia and Tibet. While the ship was in Chingkiang, a lovely Chinese girl arranged to have herself smuggled on board with her aging father, a political refugee. Karl Schepke decided to save them, and thereby created unbelievable new problems for the Gertrud Lüth -- problems resolved in a lashing sequence of violence and suspense.
The author knows the China Sea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and the Yangtze intimately. Every compass direction, change of rudder order, description of a running sea, or toll or plunge of the ship, are in their place, and are true to themselves for the simple reason that the author has either seen them or heard them in actual life.