When you're writing a screenplay, they tell you to think about the poster. Can an audience understand it, just from that? I guess Periscope Red would make an okay movie poster. Submarines, terrorists, the White House... but you could never cast it. Because there aren't any characters. No lead, no villain, no sidekick, no love interest. No henchman, no double-agent, no dead child or disappointed father in the hero's past. No ex-wife, no chief who tells the hero to play this one by the book. No mentor, no reporter, no genius hacker. No villain's girlfriend. No nothing.
It's like some sort of bizarre exercise, like writing a novel without the letter "a."
Here's what happens in Periscope Red.
Palestinian terrorists get on a freighter with a mysterious cargo of super mines. (The Palestinians, for reasons known only to Richard Rohmer, are working for the Soviet Union, and against the interests of the Arab oil states. This isn't a plot point. It just is. They're just doing it... because. They're basically the Beagle Boys.) Meanwhile, the President of the United States decides to send troops to Pakistan. This angers the Russians. A British submarine encounters a device that blocks sonar. This means Russian submarines can get into the South Atlantic without being detected. The Russians tell the Americans to take their troops out of Pakistan. The Americans say no. The Palestinians use their super mines to blow up a lot of oil tankers. The Russians use their submarines to blow up a lot of tankers. The British submarine doesn't get sunk at first, but then it does. This means war the end.
And it's unbelievably boring. I mean, it's excruciating. Not only does it go on and on, but it has so little drive it gives you a sensation of learned helplessnes, because there's nothing building. So you can't imagine how (if ever) it could possibly end. And you realize it's not building because it's Rohmer, so there's going to be a cliffhanger instead of an ending. It's awful. It's easily his worst book yet.
Because no one does anything.
It doesn't even have any howlers about sex and natural gas.
Sure, it makes as little sense as the classic early Rohmers: Why does the plan require the Palestinians at all? Why not just have the Russian submarines sink all the tankers? And why does Yasser Arafat issue a statement about sinking some but not others? Why not all of them? Or none?
But the fun is gone.
I think there's one great line, after the President has sex on Air Force One, about the First Lady's "satisfied thighs," but nothing could make me look it up. I'm not going through that hell again.