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Liberty Call


…a maelstrom cruise through the South China Sea in a man’s world (and) a raw and honest telling of men living high on the edge.”
Laurence Carr, Pancake Hollow Primer and Lightwood Press


Inspired by real life events, Walter is the newest arrival to the U.S. Navy Base at Olongapo, in the heart of the Philippines. Handpicked by Chief Parma to acquire new radio expertise for his ship in response to The Iran Hostage Crisis, Walter expected his training to be a clean-cut operation. His training doesn’t go as planned, however, and the crimes he and his shipmates commit could never be kept in any book, for their sake. After all, Olongapo is a city that never forgets, and neither does the Navy—neither does Chief Parma. Walter won’t be making it to roll-call if he can’t keep his crew-mates from the gangsters and his lover from The Chief. Walter should have known that war wasn’t only fought on foreign soil.

As Parma put it, between the bee and the balm is the bottle, the smoke, and the stinger.

Reviewed By

Tad Richards, acclaimed and NYT bestselling author

Youth, and the sea, and a voyage to nowhere except possibly self-discovery have been a powerful theme in the novel ever since Joseph Conrad, and Dennis Doherty does that tradition proud with Liberty Call.

David Appelbaum, fmr editor of Parabola Magazine and founder of Codhill Press

Dennis Doherty’s superlative novel combines his first-hand knowledge of warships with the compelling character of Walter Schmertz, to tell a sizzler of a story. Animated prose has you turn the pages as fast as the eye can see. Many head-turning events later, you’ll feel yourself in a new world, with a new mind. A must read!

Laurence Carr, Pancake Hollow Primer and Lightwood Press

Liberty Call takes Radioman Petty Officer Walter Schmertz and his shipmates on a maelstrom cruise through the South China Sea in 1980 aboard the USS Outland. It’s a man’s world, and even more a U.S. Navy man’s world where emotions and actions heighten, spill over and leave a wake of personal and military codes of conduct battered and fragmented on the sea and in the ports the sailors visit. Schmertz and his comrades are constantly in harm’s way, both from world conflict and from each other as they set courses through deadly waters personal and professional. It’s a raw and honest telling of men living high on the edge.

H. R. Stoneback, author of Reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and numerous volumes of literary criticism and poetry; Distinguished Professor Emeritus, The State University of New York

With this compelling volume from the pen of Dennis Doherty, the reader welcomes a veteran poet to the ranks of first-time novelists. This tale could be called a Navy Novel. Readers will learn a good deal about how it felt to serve on a U.S. Navy vessel, a frigate or destroyer escort of the USS Midway battle group based in Japan, during the era of the Iranian hostage crisis. But do not expect a mere Clancyesque wartime thriller since, as the novel’s title indicates, the focus is on Liberty Call, especially when the sailors are on liberty in Subic Bay in the Philippines. The plot, the action, does involve mystery, mayhem and murder but the deep focus is on how the theme of liberty and accountability plays out for the vivid cast of characters. One of the fundamentals that readers demand of prose fiction is engaging characterization, and that requirement is well-met here.
Stylistically, this novel rides on the counterpoint of dazzling dialogue with poetically evocative landscape and inscape set-pieces. The well-written dialogue is terse, clean, at times stichomythic and stage-worthy, and it plays against the descriptive poetry to create the symphonic musicality that constitutes the voice of the narration, the deep form of the narrative. Readers familiar with Doherty’s many published volumes of poetry will come to this work with great expectations for poetry and that hunger will be satisfied. Especially when it comes to the poetry of sex, or the sexiness of poetry, given the multiple liberty encounters with bargirls (or prostitutes or sex-workers). In the category of the poetry of flesh and sex, and mythopoetic sexiness, Doherty out-chats Lady Chatterley’s Lover, out-mills Henry Miller’s Tropics.
The rest is character. And there are many characters that stay with you—from the elusive (and allusively christened) bargirl ostensibly named Paz to the protagonist Walter Schmerz. Far from being Our Lady of Peace, Paz is quite a piece of work and she is really Vivien (spelled with that necessary “e”) and thus a cousin of the mysterious Lady of the Lake and her spell is cast on Walt Schmerz, the naval radio operator and Arthurian Knight in disguise. And finally, we come to understand how and why Walt Schmerz—Mister Weltschmerz (world-hurt and world-weary)—is “sickened into poetry.”

D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Walter Schmerz is a petty officer on a Navy ship, in training in the Philippines at the U.S. Navy Base at Olongapo. What evolves during this experience turns out to be more challenging than preparing for a military engagement. Walter and his crewmates find themselves challenged in a moral and ethical arena that leads them to commit crimes neither the Navy nor they will ever forget.

As he experiences a milieu in which “craziness is the plan of the day,” Walter finds his place in the shore patrol team, makes choices about his actions and faces their consequences, and juggles alcohol and duty, along with his peers.

From combat theater and military tests to radioman challenges and romantic interludes (complete with graphic sexual descriptions and scenes), Liberty Call covers Walter’s training on more than one level, capturing the daily life and challenges of the Navy environment and juxtaposing it with stories of substance abuse, twisted visions, and lives that teeter on the edge of control.

Dennis Doherty does an exceptional job of portraying the different levels of trouble and challenge that a Navy man can experience abroad. From motives and consequences for actions to lessons on life, death, and love, Walter’s growth and dilemmas are detailed in a manner that will especially appeal to military or ex-military readers, as well as general-interest audiences.

His descriptions of history and events are vivid: “Things with Iran were hot since the hostages were taken. The volume of message traffic had bloated. Battle lines were being drawn. More ships into the Arabian Sea, into the Persian Gulf itself. The Iranians sent P3s and second-hand U.S. destroyers out to recon the fleet, each appearance prompting a flash report from the forward picket. The Russians accelerated activity and the usual cat and mouse games intensified. Rumors abounded among officers and crew. Everyone was caught between the dread of battle and the excitement of involvement, secretly longing for action. But not now, now that it might happen. Contingencies. Al told of the time they were making a simple R and R cruise from Yokosuka to Pusan and got mugged in Sasebo, where they loaded some spooks and a van on board and spent the next month chasing a Russian aircraft carrier all over the North Pacific. “Bravo Zulu. Keep charging.” Everyone got gedunk ribbons. Contingencies: Russians, pirates, Boat People, Iranians—mopping up from their nation’s previous adventures. Walter Schmerz juggling it all in the fluorescent hysteria of radio central on the USS Outland, frigate. Looking ahead, beyond the Philippines to Indian Ocean contingencies. That was a mistake. Heavy weather.”

As internal threats from Chief Parma and external forces collide, an eye-opening story evolves that is powerful in its unexpected developments, made all the stronger for its roots in a real-life story.

Highly recommended for any military reader or collection, but surprisingly accessible to general-interest readers, Liberty Call is thoroughly engrossing, packed with action and moral dilemma, and is thought-provoking right up to its unexpected conclusion.

Additional Information

Published : February 4, 2022
Pages : 188
ISBN : 978-1-956389-06-7 / 978-1-956389-07-4 / 978-1-956389-08-1
BISAC : FIC019000 / FIC032000 / FIC031000
LCCN : 2021946391
Size : US Trade (6×9)