Book Review: The Fifth Column by Andrew Gross

The Fifth Column by #1 New York Times bestselling author Andrew Gross is a stirring thriller about a family torn apart set against the backdrop of a nation plunged into war.

If you look up the literal translation for ‘the Fifth Column’ the resulting definition is: ‘a group of people who undermine a larger group from within’.  Taken within the confines of the latest release by author Andrew Gross we are talking about German operatives and Nazi sympathizers operating within the United States during World War II.

Readers who are familiar with Gross’s work from the start will remember his team-ups with James Patterson as well as his terrific stand-alone thrillers which include those in the Ty Hauck series.  In recent years, Gross has done a near-complete departure from his fictional thriller stories and focused more on historical fiction based on real stories.  The running theme in these novels, that include The One Man and The Saboteur, are stories set in the WWII era and a focus on the travails of the Jewish people and the unprecedented increase in anti-Semitism during that time.

I appreciated how Gross shone a light on the era between 1939 and 1941 when President FDR was fighting his own battle over the need of the United States to intervene in the war going on in Europe and the genocide that was taking place at the hand of the Nazis.

His previous novel, Button Man, had a far more personal tone as it dealt with a story about the Rabishevsky brothers circa New York City 1905 that held familial ties to Gross himself.  Now, he has released The Fifth Column, also set in New York City in the year 1941.  I appreciated how Gross shone a light on the era between 1939 and 1941 when President FDR was fighting his own battle over the need of the United States to intervene in the war going on in Europe and the genocide that was taking place at the hand of the Nazis.  This novel begins on the night of a rally at Madison Square Garden where 22,000 Nazi sympathizers had gathered.

Our protagonist, Charles Mossman, has had it with the anti-Jewish sentiment being spewed by the huge uptick of Nazi support in NYC and on the night of the Madison Square Garden rally in 1939 he takes on a small group of Nazi sympathizers outside a bar.  Of course, he had a few drinks, which makes the tragic results of this fight that much more sad.  As he is lashing out blindly at his attackers he strikes someone and kills them.  The sad part was that it was an innocent bystander trying to intervene in the fight, a sixteen-year-old boy.

After two years in prison, Charles Mossman is back on the streets of NYC and focused on repairing his relationship with his wife Liz and young daughter Emma.  They are his entire life and he does not back down in his determination to win his family back, even though Liz is equally determined to move on with her own life.  Liz does allow visitation rights to Charles that lets him spend time with Emma.  It does not take long until Charles begins to grow suspicious of the couple who often babysit Emma, a kindly Swiss couple called Bauer.

Of course, Mossman is correct in his suspicion of Trudi and Willi Bauer.  Initially, he has no idea as to how deep a role they play in the ‘Fifth Column’ of Nazi Germany support that exists in the U.S.A.  The existence of these people are not unknown as the heralded British film director Alfred Hitchcock released two films during this time dealing with this very topic—The Secret Agent released in 1936 and Foreign Correspondent released in 1940.

It is at this point where The Fifth Column moves into the realm of full-blown espionage with code-breaking and secret alliances being uncovered throughout Charles Mossman’s campaign to reveal the truth about the Bauers.  It seems like he is a one-man army at times and it is this fact that will turn things very personal for Mossman as his own family will become pawns in his battle to reveal the sinister conspiracy.  Set against a United States on the precipice of entering WWII, The Fifth Column is so much more than just another WWII story as it skillfully blends thriller, espionage, and historical fiction into a page-turning novel that will keep you in suspense right up until the very last page.

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