Men At War, Book III, The Soldier Spies

We turn our attention, once again, to to the Men At War series by author WEB Griffin. Our regular readership will recall that I've recently reviewed book one of the series, The Last Heroes, and its followup novel, The Secret Warriors. This Men At War series focuses on the role of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II.

It's pretty obvious by this third novel, that this series is done before the more masterful works by this author. Like listening to a debut album of your favorite musician, or watching a high school game from a professional athlete, clearly the writer was still learning his chops. Much of the later formula is followed, but it is still getting developed here, and doesn't quite have the same smoothness found in The Corps or The Brotherhood series.

In The Soldier Spies, we have two basic plots intertwining. The first is the plan to nab a German scientist and his daughter that is involved in their jet engine production. They reasonably figure that if they grab their metallurgist, they can back work what they're using, and bomb the heck out of the factories and mines that produce it. This story is told from both the Allies and Axis side. At times it's a bit much as griffin insists on using the German ranks, ad nauseum, and I'm still not exactly sure what an Obersturmfuhrer is, for example (and I shouldn't need the Wikipedia to understand a novel). In later works, he uses footnotes liberally to explain this minutiae, and more than a few of them are an interesting read on their own. However, this time around, we're on our own.

The other basic plot involves the effort to destroy the German submarine pens. With concrete reinforced roofs, Allied bombs bounced off with little damage, and suffered heavy losses from Nazis fighters and antiaircraft fire. There was also the matter of "pilotless bombers," better known as missiles that were in their infancy. The Allies countered with a plan to develop remote controlled bombers that could deliver a larger payload of explosive to the target. Of note, Joseph Kennedy, Jr makes a cameo as being involved in this project.

Any Griffin novel always has a few side trips. In The Soldier Spies there are two that stand out. The first is when a senior naval officer goes along on a B-17 for a bombing run into Germany. While he is an observer, he has to step up to the plate and attempt to pilot this large bird home even when he has no multiengine flying time. The other is the talk about "General" Fertig. I put his title in quote because this guy was a Lt. Colonel in the Army Engineering Corps who after the Fall of Bataan in the Philippines didn't surrender, promoted himself to Brigadier General, and led a resistance against the occupying Japanese that not only proved General MacArthur wrong, but did influence the course of the war as the Japanese had to devote resources to dealing with this resistance. Fertig is a fascinating character, and he also comes up in another Griffin work, Behind the Lines.

Despite many parts of The Soldier Spies being good, too much of it isn't. The sum of the parts isn't any greater, unlike much of this author's works. I'd recommend that readers start with Griffin's other works first.

Grade: B-

Reviewed by Jonas

You can read the beginning of the novel here.

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