Debra Doyle

Tiger Cruise, Douglas Morgan

Forge, 2000 (2002 reprint), 289 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-56859-1

Sometimes, reviewing the book’s story isn’t as interesting as reviewing the story about the book.

For instance, there are a number of pleasant things to say about Tiger Cruise, but nothing particularly outstanding: It’s a competent military thriller, unusually accessible for civilian audience. It feels too short and linear, but those end up being small flaws in a generally enjoyable piece of good reading.

It starts at Diego Garcia, the major US base in the Indian Ocean. It’s a festive time: The USS Cushing is coming back home after a long deployment, and a group of civilians has opted to spend some time aboard the destroyer. This “Tiger Cruise” is supposed to be uneventful, but that’s without counting on the ambitions of a group of terrorists intent to seizing the destroyer and its arsenal of “special weapons”. Cruising through one of the most dangerous seas on Earth quickly has consequences: the ship is boarded and it’s up to the crew, cut off from the rest of the world, to fight back against the pirates. Meanwhile, the Australians are taking their own dispositions to make sure that no one escapes with a bunch of nuclear missiles…

The best thing about Tiger Cruise is that it’s pure beach-side entertainment. Not too demanding, not too silly, with just enough characterization to do the job and credible details about life on board a modern destroyer. “Morgan” knows enough about the way the military works to describe it well, but isn’t so obsessed with ranks and rivets to make the book inaccessible to civilians. The tension is cranked effectively, and the basic plot flows along smoothly.

Where it doesn’t work so well is when the story wrap up to a conclusion: After a promising start, the pirate onslaught whimpers out and the heroes are able to counterattack relatively easy. Readers may feel that there’s an extra twist missing, especially when the arrival of the much-anticipated Australian strike force fails to have much of an impact on the situation. Tiger Cruise ends too quickly, sailing to a smooth finish almost as if it couldn’t be bothered to make the most out of its setup. Those with good memories for action movies may mutter something about this not being much different from the Steven Seagal vehicle Under Siege.

And that, in a nutshell, would be the review of the book.

But something interesting is revealed when you start poking around the web for more information on Tiger Cruise‘s “Douglas Morgan”: He doesn’t exist.

Or rather, he’s a pseudonym for none other than husband/wife writing team Debra Doyle and James D. McDonald, the latter of which is widely know both as a co-editor of the popular “Making Light” blog, and for his own writing advice as “Uncle Jim”. Better yet: The acknowledgement page shows that none other than Teresa Nielsen Hayden co-edited the book, adding another layer of “but I know this person!” to the entire story-about-the-story.

But wait! It gets better: Reading through the lines, it becomes clear that Tiger Cruise was meant as a novelization of a movie script, which makes the entire shortcomings of the story come into focus. “Morgan” (or rather Doyle/MacDonald) took on the job of fleshing out a story already developed by Pamela Wallace and Susan Feiles. Suddenly, the straightforward plotting and the simplistic ending of the book all make sense when viewed through the lenses of a novelization from a story developed by others.

But wait! It gets even better: Look around the Internet Movie Database for a movie called “Tiger Cruise”, and you will find reference to a 2004 Disney Channel original film (!) describing the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the civilians and crew of the USS Constellation aircraft carrier. No terrorists, which may be explained by the fact that this is an entirely different film with a different production crew. Are you confused yet?

Even so, I have the sneaking suspicion that there’s even more to this story that hasn’t made public: If Pamela Wallace is a well-known writer, Producer “Susan Feiles” remains an enigma with a scant web presence. Was the Disney film a hacked-together attempt to revive the title? What happened to the original script concept? Is Douglas Morgan going to write another techno-thriller? Should we ask Uncle Jim?