The Key to Rebecca

 a woman's photo, swastika are opposite ends of a key
Photo within the key shows woman with mask over her mouth

You’ve seen the plot of The Key to Rebecca in a dozen movies. It’s a World War II thriller with the bad guys coming within a hair’s breadth of beating the good guys.

In Key, the really bad guy is Alex Wolff, an European-trained Egyptian returned home to spy for the Germans.

Wolff’s job is to provide Field Marshall Rommel with information that will allow him to destroy the British in Egypt once and for all.

The really good guy is Major Vandam, a British officer whose knee wound sidelined him to intelligence work.

Wolff slipped up returning to Cairo and killed a man; Vandam is after him.

Vandam meets a beautiful Egyptian Jew, Elene, whom he uses to lure Wolff out where he can grab him.

Wolff has a friend and sometime sex partner, Sonja, who is the most famous belly dancer in Cairo.

He cajoles her into helping him steal documents outlining the Brits’ plan to defend Cairo.

Once he has the documents, Wolff must encode the information and transmit it to the Germans using a code based on the novel Rebecca.

Instead of reading The Key to Rebecca, read Follett’s The Eye of the Needle. It’s a far more original work.

The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett
Morrow, 1st ed. 1980. 381 p.
1980 bestseller #6. My grade: B-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

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The Bourne Identity: Gripping story, forgettable characters

A sea shell pierced by a nail against a black background on the dust jacket of “The Bourne Identity”
The Bourne Identity cover art symbolizes murder attempt at sea

As he did in his previous bestseller, The Matarese Circle, in The Bourne Identity novelist Robert Ludlum tells a story that will keep readers turning pages long past their bedtime.

Bourne is the identity assumed by a man pulled from the Mediterranean “more corpse than man,” unable to remember anything about his past, including why he has a piece of microfilm with a Swiss bank account number implanted in his hip.

In Zurich, the amnesiac takes a woman hostage—every spy story requires the hero have a woman to complicate the plot—and together in Paris they begin to piece together Jason Bourne’s origins in Southeast Asia.

Ludlum is a master storyteller. Plot is his forte. Ludnum gives his characters just enough depth to be recognizable. They learn what’s necessary to advance the plot, but they don’t grow.

A day after closing The Bourne Identity, readers may wonder how Bourne, even before being shot in the head multiple times, could have been expected to remember everything he was required to remember to implement the machination of the West’s intelligence services.

Two days later, readers may even be unable to recall the names of the main characters.

But while they’re reading, they will be totally immersed in this complex, fast-paced thriller.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
R. Marek Publishers, © 1980. 523 p.
1980 bestseller #2. My grade: B+

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Third World War: August 1985

The Third World War: August 1985 is not a real novel. It’s not about people; it’s about populations.

All-text cover in black and gray text on white background.
The text is as dull as the cover.

The book is classified as a fantasy: Tanks, submarines, and nuclear war heads take the place of wizards, elves, and magic wands.

Its authors are “General Sir John Hackett and Other Top-ranking NATO Generals and Advisors.”

They begin their book with three pages listing acronyms used in the text.

The text itself is written as a post-war analysis compiled at the conclusion of the war. It certainly sounds like a military analysis: Ponderous prose in passive voice.

Today’s readers will have difficulty getting past the first chapter.

The map of the world is very different today than it was in 1978 when the generals and advisors were concocting this tale: Germany, divided then, is once more reunited. The map of Africa has been redrawn, countries renamed.

What remains of interest are small bits, as, for example, the military men say socialist countries reject American-style democracy because they see it as substituting corporate rule for Soviet political rule or the assertion that Europeans distrust America’s judgment because it wasn’t invaded in WWI or WWII.

Skip this fantasy.

Read history instead.

There’s no humanity in this tale.

The Third World War: August 1985
by Gen. Sir John Hackett et al.
Macmillan, © 1978. 368 p.
1979 bestseller #09 My grade: C

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

War and Remembrance

Night bombing is symbolic dust jacket cover for  Herman Wouk's"War and Remembrance."
Night time bombings are memorable part of WWII.

Herman Wouk called War and Remembrance a historical romance, a description that barely touches what’s packed into its 3.5 pounds and 1,039 pages.

Wouk picks up the story of an American naval family—Commander Victor “Pug” Henry, his wife, and their three adult children—whom he introduced seven years earlier in The Winds of War.

This novel follows them from the attack on Pearl Harbor through the end of World War II. Wouk uses their stories to transport readers into the wake of war around the globe.

Pug wins promotions, but spends most of his time trying to unsnarl problems abroad at the behest of Roosevelt.

Pug and Rhoda’s eldest son is killed in action, leaving behind a wife and son.

While son Byron serves on submarines in the Pacific, his Jewish wife and their infant son become trapped in Poland.

Rhoda takes a lover, considers divorce.

Pug falls in love; the war continually pulls Pug and Pamela in different directions.

Wouk says frankly his purpose is to show that war must end. He’s too talented a writer to need to preach: His stories preach for him.

To understand War and Remembrance you need not have read Winds but you’ll appreciate both more if you read them as a set.

War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
Little, Brown, ©1978. 1042 p.
1978 bestseller #2. My grade: A+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Storm Warning: heroism where none’s expected

Storm Warning is an implausible and irresistible tale of heroism in unlikely places.

A tattered Nazi flag rises above the words Storm Warning
This flag tops a 3-masted sailing ship, badly battered.

Novelist Jack Higgins weaves together several stories, each worthy of a novel on its own.

The book opens in  Brazil in August, 1944, as Captain Berger’s three-masted German sailing ship, disguised as a Swedish vessel, sets sail for Germany 5,000 miles away.

On board is a crew of 22 men and seven passengers, five of them nuns.

If his wooden vessel survives Atlantic storms, Captain Berger will have to sail along Scotland’s treacherous western coast which, as WWII winds down, is dominated by American and British ships and planes.

In London, American doctor Janet Munro has leave from patching up air raid victims to visit her severely wounded uncle, Rear Admiral Carey Reeve on Fhada Island off Scotland.

Crossing Scotland, Janet and her Navy escort Harry Jago cross paths with Paul Gericke, who had just pulled off a U-Boat attack on Falmouth.

All the characters converge on Fhada Island just as the storm of the century whips up.

Higgins presents a rousing adventure story supported by precisely-drawn characters captured in vivid verbal snapshots.

The story has too many coincidences to withstand scrutiny, but while you are reading, Higgins will make you believe every word.

Storm Warning by Jack Higgins
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976, 311 p.
1976 bestseller #4. My grade: A-

The Eagle Has Landed

German SS is central to The Eagle Has Landed.

The Eagle Has Landed is a World War II novel that manages to be both exciting and nuanced.

The novel is about a 1943 German plot to kidnap Winston Churchill in a commando operation, which Himmler thinks might make Hitler happy.

Himmler selects Colonel Max Radl, a terminally ill officer, to coordinate the top secret mission.

By coincidence, a spy living on a remote, unprotected stretch of English coastline reports that Churchill will be staying overnight nearby on November 6.

Radl pulls together an unlikely team led by Kurt Steiner, a German officer in disgrace for helping a Jew, with aid from Irish Republican Army operative Liam Devlin and hindrance from Harvey Preston, a captured English soldier who defected to the SS.

Steiner’s dozen commandos parachute in to join Devlin, who had already secured the necessary equipment for the snatch.

Then things start going wrong.

Novelist Jack Higgins’ characters are puzzling, contradictory personalities, not your typical war novel stereotypes. In fact, the Eagle’s battle-hardened German soldiers are too nice. Joseph Wambaugh’s Choirboys would be more believable. They’d fit in with American Colonel Shafto, who thinks nobody can run a war as well as he.

Despite that highly intriguing flaw, The Eagle lives up to his book jacket blurbs.

The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins
Pocket Books ©1975 [paper] 1st ed. 390 p.
1975 bestseller #6. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Winds of War: WWII history in stories

Herman Wouk’s 1971 bestseller, The Winds of War, immerses readers in world history from 1939 to December 1941, showing great leaders as ordinary men and ordinary men as great leaders.

Dark clouds are background for title and author info
Winds of War bring storm clouds over Europe.

The story is told through the experiences of an American naval family — Commander Victor “Pug” Henry, his wife, and their three children — and the people who matter to them: the sons’ wives and their families, the prominent people the daughter meets in her work for a popular national radio show.

Pug is sent at President Roosevelt’s behest to “observe” on behalf of the military in Berlin, England, and Russia. He meets Hitler, Churchill, Stalin.

When Germany invades Poland, one son, who was working in Europe, is trapped along with American Jewish woman with whom he’s fallen in love.

The other son, a navy pilot,marries the senate’s most outspoken opponent to American intervention in a European war. He’s at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bomb it.

Wouk lets all these characters take readers around the world to get a 360-degree view of what led each of the participants into World War II.

Amazingly, Wouk makes every character a believable human being.

The Winds of War is the reading you would have liked to have had in history class.

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
Little, Brown. [1971] 888 p.
1971 bestseller #7. My grade: A+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni