V2 by Robert Harris.
I was really looking forward to reading this having read all Mr Harris’s work, and it started great too, the writer’s portrayal of wartime London matched my mother’s memories spot on, and especially when on the receiving end of Hitler’s vengeance weapons V1 and V2.
The story follows the career of Kay Caton-Walsh, a WAAF officer employed on what might be called low level intelligence work.
She’s also having a messy affair with a senior RAF officer who happens to be married, but surprise surprise, that all ends in tears. To get away from all that she wangles a move to Belgium where she’s placed on radar tracking duties, and that’s all good, but here’s where things started to go wrong for me.
Within 24 hours of being in the country (mini spoiler alert coming up) - don’t read on if you want to keep the story under-wraps to read later – she jumps into bed with a Belgian labourer with a gammy leg. Yes, within 24 hours! That didn’t ring true at all, or fit either. It was almost as if some bossy editor back at HQ said: This chapter’s a bit plodding, Rob, can’t you sex it up a bit?
And hey ho, a wee bit of titillation was thrown in, never Mr Harris’s strongest suit IMHO, to keep some readers happy. I was left shaking my head and wondering, and he kind of lost me at that point.
But overall it is a decent read, as Mr Harris’s works always are. Maybe the ending was a trifle weak, and maybe even downright unbelievable, but then again, the ending of his previous work, The Second Sleep also had a weak finale, and don’t take my opinion on that. Read the reviews.
At the end of the book there’s a list of people who have helped “bring it to market”. Awful phrase. How many, do you reckon? Four or five? I stopped counting at twenty-five. Yes, really. Editors and assistants of every conceivable kind, no doubt most of them highly paid, and they all had to justify those big wages, I would guess, by making sure their suggestions and ideas were included somewhere.
Couldn’t most of us write a decent book with twenty-five helpers in tow? But no matter, I’m only jealous.
And it wasn’t that they got everything right.
Von Braun is Von Braun in some places, von Braun in others, and even Van Braun in others. Can you imagine the abuse an indie writer would receive if they wrote such a thing and put it out? I can hear it now.
This is why books need to be properly edited.
This is why I never read Indie books.
Could have done with a damned good proof-reader, blah blah blah.
But this was Penguin Random House for goodness sake. Just saying.
That said, I look forward to Mr Harris’s next effort, but please do what John Irving always recommends, write a cracking ending first! That way you will never leave readers even a little disappointed.
Maybe Mr Harris might try the Napoleonic Wars next time. He has written a French based book before, An Officer and a Spy, very good too, but nothing about the little corporal. Maybe that era doesn’t appeal to the writer, but I have a feeling he could get into it and write something really memorable, perhaps even up there with his best.
As for V2, I’d give it a solid 4 stars out of 5. All the 1 star brigade of review-wreckers on Ammo, far too many of them, are very wrong on this one. Miles off, in fact.
If you like Robert Harris’s books I’d wager you’ll like this too.
And moving on...
Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements
I have to confess this is the first book I have read by Rory Clements. It was given to me by a friend and I read it while I was waiting for Robert Harris’s book to arrive, and I reckon there’s a fair bit of crossover among the readers of both.
I won’t tell you what the secret is to avoid spoilers, except to say it’s a whopper, and because of that, somewhat unbelievable. But putting that to one side, it’s a reasonable read.
Cambridge Professor Tom Wilde is approached by American intelligence and is persuaded to enter Germany with a brief to bring home secret intelligence.
What follows is a murderous rampage across Germany, continuing back in England, where numerous people are violently killed. Some of it came across as a wee bit gratuitous, as if the writer felt the need to excite his readers, or maybe he thought his readers demanded that kind of thing.
I’d say take a lesson from the late great John Le Carré who always knew when to include violence, and sparingly too, and because of that it was all the more hard hitting, shocking, and powerful. Less really is more!
Some of the language in the book annoyed me too. If I ever hear the phrase gotten-bloody-himmel again it will be too soon, and there were eleven of the blighters in there. Come on! Deary me. Gotten-bloody-himmel!
Rory normally writes historical novels going back centuries, not my cup of tea, though I’m told Hitler’s Secret is the fourth one to feature Tom Wilde, so I’d maybe read another one of those. Why not?
As for Hitler’s Secret, I’d give is a solid 3.5 out of 5.
If you are into World War II fiction, and there are legions of followers out there, both of these books deserve your consideration.