The Losing Role by Steve Anderson is a touching yet painful story set in late 1944 that explores the evolution of an individual throughout a life fraught with inequity.
As the novel opens, the reader is immediately dropped into the middle of a firefight on the Eastern front of World War II. The protagonist, Max Kaspar, runs to take cover in an abandoned building with other German soldiers and local Axis aligned civilians. Here we learn that Max has a performance background as his compatriots request songs and impersonations. A German officer finds Kaspar at this locale and informs him he is being taken back to where he belongs. Max travels across Bavaria to meet with Captain Pielau and is informed that he is to be a part of Operation Greif, a plot to infiltrate American occupied territory by pretending to be American soldiers. As Max is an actor with excellent English speaking skills, he is to be a predominant player.
After a dubious practice run at a POW camp, Max and his compatriots are sent to the Western front donning American uniforms and driving American jeeps. Getting through enemy lines is rather easy, but as Operation Greif is quickly compromised, escaping back into Axis territory becomes exceedingly difficult. Max is separated from his three team members and finds shelter at a villa. He is forced to keep up his pretense while two American soldiers and three Belgian civilians occupy the villa. The five spend many days together in a seemingly peaceful commune including a beautiful Christmas Eve, but Christmas Day brings conflict and the war. History buffs will recognize several of the names used. Steve Anderson was very clever in weaving historical figures into his fictional interactions.
The immediate action at the start of the novel was a bit confusing at first. The initial scenes pushed forward very quickly and I had to reread the first two chapters to convince myself that I hadn’t missed anything. The author introduces Max through many quick conversations with a myriad of soldiers during his travels across Germany. This character exploration continues to be a trend throughout the book. Max’s personality is slowly revealed as he interacts with officers, soldiers, civilians, and American soldiers. We also learn about his past during his silent reflections; how he came to be a part of the war. It becomes clear the soldier’s uniform he wears is only one more costume the actor has worn.
This was a fictional tale set within the confines of a real-life event and the author had to write using boundaries set by history. Knowing from history that Operation Greif was a failure, it was captivating to watch how the protagonist dealt with being assigned to the campaign and then managing the fall out. Max’s personal reflections throughout the novel gave credence to his decisions. The flow of the novel played out very similarly to war. Some scenes, such as arguments and combat scenes, were fast paced and unexpected, while other scenes showed the lulls that soldiers experience. Every interaction with another character was suspenseful as predictability is not a luxury during war.
At first, the dialogue seemed clipped and put upon. However, as I continued to read and became more immersed in the wartime culture, the brevity between and lack of connection among characters made sense. Anderson used the dialogue as another method of having the reader experience the heightened emotion and wariness that accompanies a community under siege. The “put upon” feeling came from the fact that the majority of the characters speaking were not native English speakers. The conversations are sometimes hokey, but we learn later that this is how the German soldiers think Americans should talk. Once native speakers are introduced into the scene it becomes clear that the Germans chosen for Operation Greif are not as fluent as they imagine. Props to the author for writing dialogue that is so precise that it helps set the scene.
Easily my favorite part of the novel, mostly because it plucks at one’s heartstrings, was the Christmas Eve scene. The reader has spent the whole novel reading about Max Kapsar’s unfortunate lot in life prior to the war and the horrible events of war itself. On Christmas Eve disparity is forgotten as the strangers put aside all differences and celebrate. Their interaction is visibly strained, but still full of warmth.
The reader watches Max learn about himself, his choices, and how he will make his next step. He is not a hero, nor does he ever pretend to be. He is a survivalist. And though I wanted him to do the noble thing, as I have been taught to view soldiers as always doing the noble act in the face of hardship, he never does. He is human in the face of hardship and choses to continue living, but on his own terms.
I look forward to reading Steve Anderson’s other novels.
1930’s Berlin–unrestrained, decadent, and torn by political and social strife–and dashing Ryan Lemmon intends to make the most of every moment. The young American reporter loses himself in the dark underbelly of the capital, only to have a violent death bring him face-to-face with the growing menace.
Inspired by firsthand accounts, Corridors of Darkness by Patrick O’Bryon tells the gritty tale of Lemmon’s experiences during the reign of terror enabling Hitler’s rise to power. Germany was a country consuming itself with its own decadence, anger, greed, and the ultimate hatred that would drive a stake in the heart of world history for decades to come.
Well written in the very effective old style prose of noir thrillers, I was in a 1930’s black and white film alongside Lemmon. O’Bryon’s detailed descriptions allowed me to see the streets of old Berlin, taste decadence everywhere, feel imminent dangers around every corner, hear the march of the storm troopers, and literally smell fear on the citizens as they ran.
A well-constructed plot intertwines tense words and wild actions as the Nazi regime relentlessly pursues Lemmon and his girlfriend. The characters are real and believable, with a clear delineation between good and evil. Corridors of Darkness is a fast paced, suspenseful tale with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader on edge. The writing is immediate and engaging as the pages fly by.
I recommend this book to both thriller fans and history buffs. You will have fun with it and O’Bryon will leave you wanting more.
I received a free copy of Corridors of Darkness in exchange for a fair and honest review.
As a writer, I was told to keep a nice balance between narrative, description and dialogue. That including a lot of the former, along with a lot of backstory, really drags the reader through the experience and slows the pace down to nothing.
And yet here we are giving the Lupane Legacy five stars.
The Lupane Legacy begins with a brutal village massacre somewhere in the depths of Zimbabwe, just after it had stopped being named Rhodesia. A small boy, Patrick Khumalo, remains the lone survivor of the ordeal. Across the world, in Washington DC, Joshua Denham attends a concert held by the Austrian embassy where his cousin, Constance Traun is a renowned violinist. There, he again meets none other than Devon Kerr, a banker who first met him in Afghanistan, during his tour with the Marines. Patrick, now in Zimbabwean Intelligence years and years later, one day receives the package he has been waiting his whole life for: a film reel of what happened in his village when he was five.
The book continues thus, with two parallel lines on two different continents, until out of the blue Patrick calls Constance; they must meet in person.
The Lupane Legacy carries the reader along smoothly, a page-turner that kept me up nights trying to figure out just how everything would play out. The narrative reveals a lot about the author’s education, it’s full of choice imagery, the vocabulary is lush and full, and expects the reader to read between the lines often. Slow as narrative generally goes, this book hits a good stride and doesn’t let up even after the explosive climax.
Readers of thrillers and mysteries beware: while this book is an excellent one, in terms of historical fiction and even literary fiction, there isn’t as much action as one would expect. Most of the book is building characters and explaining the political situations of the present and the past for various different countries. The characters are real, the dialogue never trite or cardboard, and the description is handled with the same effortlessness as the narrative, though one could ask for a tad more in some places.
If there was one gripe about the book, it was that it sailed over my head in a few places. Movie, music and literature references expect the reader to be familiar with a lot of classics, and for a vast majority of readers, that simply won’t be the case. It was possible to surge past this, but I felt certain that my enjoyment and experience with the story was lacking something in not understanding these.
In addition, this book contains a preview of the second book in the series, the Pyin Protocol. I’m definitely keen to read further adventures of Joshua and Devon, to see what’s in store further down the road.
Thank you for the read, Darby.