Surviving World War II | Fiction Reviews

An enjoyable story for WWII buffs that follows a flawed hero looking for redemption; an exploration of seemingly ordinary lives and human spirit in a tumultuous time; a debut novel filled with drama tells the complicated story of surviving in times of war

Hartov, Steven. The Soul of a Thief. Hanover Square: Harlequin. Apr. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781335144577. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488079443. F

A somewhat reluctant adjutant to SS Col. Himmel, Shtefan Brandt becomes an important fixture at the colonel’s side. Despite performing mostly clerical duties, Shtefan is given a uniform, taken into battle with the colonel, and made his confidant. In return, the colonel keeps the secret of Shtefan’s mischling (half-Jewish) heritage, and Shtefan grows to admire some aspects of his superior’s character. But upon learning the true nature of the colonel’s hold on a beautiful French nurse named Gabrielle, Shtefan grows disgusted and begins to plot a double-cross. Unlikely to have wide appeal owing to its slow start, this story is not without charm. Shtefan is a flawed hero who struggles with a sense of duty and loyalty, combined with his own personal convictions of right and wrong. The first-person narrative reads as if written by a man longing for redemption but unsure he will ever find it. ­VERDICT World War II buffs looking for easy fiction are likely candidates for this novel by the coauthor of ­In the Company of Heroes. [See Prepub Alert, 10/22/17.]—Vicki Briner, Broomfield, CO

McCall Smith, Alexander. The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse. Pantheon. Apr. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9781524747534. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781524747541. F

Val Eliot is a young “land girl” in England during World War II who rides her bicycle to work on a local farm each day while the able-bodied men are in the service. Val lives with her Aunt Annie and a distant cousin Willy, and the whole community struggles to get by on wartime rations. When the family rescues an abused dog from a nearby farm, their lives begin to change. In a domino effect, the dog, Peter Woodhouse, brings an American airman and a German corporal into Val’s simple country life, causing her to reevaluate the definition of “enemy” and “friend.” In the style of Jan Karon and Philip Gulley, the author of the “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series reveals the extraordinary human spirit found in ordinary lives. ­VERDICT McCall Smith brings the trademark philosophy, solid characterization, and sense of place found in his contemporary series to this historical stand-alone. This gentle read possesses enough depth to do justice to a turbulent time period.—Christine Barth, Scott Cty. Lib. Syst., IA

McConnell, Thomas. The Wooden King. Hub City. May 2018. 328p. ISBN 9781938235375. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781938235368. F

DEBUT In 1939, after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, history professor Viktor Trn loses his job. Over the next six years, as the devastation of war grows, he struggles to save his family—hectoring wife Alena, who would just as soon he disappear; beloved Aleks, a timid boy who needs protection from bullies; and crusty father-in-law Miroslav. A pacifist at heart, Viktor seems indifferent to not only his country’s plight but his crumbling marriage. Yet as the war draws to a close, he’s forced to risk his life, sucked first into helping the Czech Resistance, then serving the Germans at gunpoint in a trenching brigade, and, finally, as he tries to make his way home across a devastated city, dodging resistance fighters, Nazis, and the advancing Russians. ­McConnell shines in re-creating the stifled life of Czechs under the Occupation. Despite Viktor’s faults, he’s a sympathetic and well-delineated character, absorbing as best he can the blows of fate. VERDICT Drama builds from start to finish with a conclusion that is particularly powerful. This debut will appeal to readers of Joseph Kanon, Olen ­Steinhauer, or Philip Kerr.—Ron Terpening, formerly of Univ. of Arizona, Tucson

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