DIVING INTO A MYSTERY

When the seeker dropped anchor out in the Atlantic miles off the New Jersey coast in the fall of 1991, the 13 wreck divers on board were simply looking for their idea of a good time. That is, they were preparing to dive 200 feet into uncharted waters and risk their lives exploring an unidentified object on the ocean floor. They didn't know what they would find. So when the first divers surfaced with the news that they had discovered a submarine, the men were ecstatic. When subsequent dives proved the sub to be a Nazi U-boat not recorded on any chart, the men knew that they had stumbled on the wreck diver's grail--a piece of history that was theirs for the taking. What none of them knew then was that they had embarked on a journey that would last most of a decade, turn what had been a weekend hobby into an obsession, ruin two marriages and cost three men their lives.

"Shadow Divers," first-time author Robert Kurson's pulse-quickening account of the attempt to explore and identify the mystery sub, focuses on the two men who followed the search to the very end. John Chatterton was a commercial diver. Richie Kohler ran a glass company. When they began diving the wreck site, they couldn't stand each other. By the time their adventure ended, they were finishing each other's sentences. The best part of this absorbing story is how their mission changed these men. Chatterton became fixated on correcting the historical record, pinning down what was lost and where. Kohler started out as little better than a scavenger, dreaming only of how much loot he could scrounge off a wreck. By the end of the story, he dreamed only of being able to tell families of the U-boat's crew the correct location of their loved ones' remains.

At one point Chatterton exclaimed to Kohler, "What an amazing adventure we're on." No argument about that, but even a great story needs the right storyteller, and Chatterton and Kohler couldn't have asked for anyone better than Kurson. From U-boat history to the mortal dangers of diving (disorientation is so common that you wonder only three men drowned on this quest), Kurson explains it all, even as he's spinning a fantastic yarn that happens to be true. All he leaves out are the boring parts.

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