The German War Machine is in retreat as the Russians advance. In Warsaw, Resistance fighters rise up against their Nazi occupiers, but the Germans retaliate, ruthlessly leveling the once-beautiful city. American Adam Nowak has been dropped into Poland by British intelligence as an assassin and Resistance fighter. During the Warsaw Uprising he meets Natalia, a covert operative who has lost everything—just as he has. Amid the Allied power struggle left by Germany’s defeat, Adam and Natalia join in a desperate hunt for the 1940 Soviet order authorizing the murders of 20,000 Polish army officers and civilians. If they can find the Katyn Order before the Russians do, they just might change the fate of Poland.
I read Douglas W Jacobson's debut novel A Night of Flames, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so when I saw that there was a new book coming out I instantly knew that I had to have it!
Adam and Natalia are members of the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) known as the AK. It is 1944 and the AK is fighting a lonely, losing battle against the might of German Army as they destroy the city of Warsaw in the process, whilst the Red Army sits within striking distance taking no action to assist the partisans.
Adam is an Polish born American who came back to Poland to live with his aunt and uncle in the years before the war. He is also a crack sniper, code name Wolf. Just as he doesn't know the true identities of many of his AK colleagues, they also know nothing of his true identity. Adam's grief for his uncle, who he knows died in the very early years of the war has driven him to become a killing machine - a man who is good at what he does, and without much emotion attached to the actions he undertakes.
One of the few people to get under his cold mask of emotionless existence is Natalia - code name The Conductor. She has been a key member of the organisation in her role as a messenger passing papers from Krakow to Warsaw, but she is also driven by grief at the loss of all her family and determination that Poland should not be overrun by the German army. Unfortunately it looks like the alternative is that they will be taken over by the Russians, and that isn't much of a better option.
At the core of this book is the search for the one piece evidence that would prove who authorised the massacre of more than 20000 Polish officers in several locations, including the Katyn forest. When the mass graves were discovered in 1943, the Russians blamed the Germans and vice versa.Now that the war is coming to it's end, the winners are dividing up the spoils, including the entire country of Poland. If the evidence can be found that it was a Russian atrocity, then maybe, just maybe, Poland can be saved from becoming part of the Communist bloc.
Jacobson does a great job at portraying the desperation of the fighters, the horror of a city being destroyed, almost brick by brick by the German army - churches, hospitals, civilian houses - nothing is off limits. I wasn't quite as convinced by the relationship between Adam and Natalia as I was in his previous book, by the relationship betweeen Jan and Anna.
I think part of the reason that I wasn't as convinced is that I would classify this as more of a historical thriller than Night of Flames, or at least what I remember of Night of Flames (when I reread the review earlier it turns out that I did have some of these same issues). The book is filled with lots of action, the characters move between Poland, England and Germany, the body count is high, but to sum it up in just a few words - it was definitely a page turner!
I remember visiting Dachau when I went to Germany many years ago and seeing the displays there and being horrified at the things that humans do to each other in the name of war. At that time, the Balkan conflicts involving the former Yugoslavian states were under way and I remember thinking how it was that we don't seem to learn the lessons of the past. Given the news that we see quite regularly it appears that we still don't, so it is important that novels like this are written to remind us not only about this fact, about the terrible and needless atrocities that humankind seem to be able to inflict on each other, but also the triumph of the human spirit under the most trying of circumstances.
Interested in finding out more? Check out the guest post by Douglas W Jacobson that we posted a few weeks ago!