Death at Nuremberg by W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV follows a crafty American soldier caught between scheming Russians and secretive Nazis in post-World War II Germany in the fourth novel of the Clandestine Operations series (available December 26, 2017).
With more than 50 novels to his name, W.E.B. Griffin is one of the most prolific writers of military fiction, and his latest collaboration with his son, William E. Butterworth IV, explores the cloak-and-dagger games of post-World War II Germany—a time period that isn’t covered by authors nearly as much as the war itself. Everything should be set up for success with Death at Nuremberg, which follows Captain James D. Cronley Jr. as he’s assigned to guard a justice assigned to the Nuremberg trials of captured Nazis.
Even with a strong premise and interesting characters, it’s hard to become fully immersed in this novel due to the limited writing style. The dialog is terrific, but there’s too much of it. The novel is lacking in descriptions of setting and place, which is a shame because post-WWII Germany must have been a haunting sight with the ruins of war apparent on every street.
The action scenes, where Cronley must fend off assassins, come and go too quickly without building much tension. I heard what Cronley is saying and thinking, but the authors don’t let me feel what it’s like in his head when bullets are flying.
Griffin and Butterworth have absolutely mastered the dialog of the time, mixing in German and French and making the conversations feel authentic. They blend historical details into the story, mentioning Odessa, the smuggling of Nazi war criminals to Argentina, and the individuals involved in it.
As the story unfolds, Cronley is reassigned from head of intelligence for the U.S. Army in Europe to leader of the security team for a justice at Nuremberg. He must fight on two fronts: political and survival.
Many Nazi sympathizers in Germany view the war criminals as heroes being martyred by Jewish-led invaders. To counter this, Cronley wants to expose the Nazis as stealing from the people and trying to start a new religion. Colonel Mortimer Cohen tells him about how the Nazis transformed the historic Wewelsburg Castle into the “Vatican” of the new Nazi religion. They both tour the castle, along with Russian Colonel Ivan Serov, who Cronley is pretty sure he can’t trust.
The castle tour would have been an amazing scene, but it’s skipped over. The novel has the setup to the tour and the reaction of the characters after ghastly scenes in Wewelsburg Castle, but the reader could only guess what it looked like.
When he walked into the bar, Cronley saw a faintly familiar face on a tall, thin, middle-aged major of infantry sitting along at a corner table, but he couldn’t remember his name, or where he had seen him before.
“Let’s take a table,” he said to Serov, Cohen, and Casey Wagner, who had driven them from the airport. “I’m about to quickly have several belts of Jack Daniel’s and I don’t want to fall off a bar stool.”
“Something bothering you?”
“And you know what: Castle Wewelsburg.”
“Red Army officers such as myself pride themselves on impassiveness in all situations,” Serov said. “Having said that, I will tell the waiter to bring a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”
“You, too, Ivan?” Cohen said.
“I had the feeling that we were as close to absolutely evil—perhaps hell itself—as we are ever going to be in this life.”
Cronley aims to track down Franz von Dietelburg, a Nazi who knows the secrets of Wewelsburg Castle and probably hid its treasures. This involves interrogation and spycraft. The interrogation scenes are excellent since they revolve around dialog. The spycraft, with Cronley’s team observing people who might be connected to the escaped Nazi, is underwhelming because the authors don’t describe the action at great length.
As for the staying alive part of Cronley’s job, he’s pretty sure that either the Russians or the underground Nazis want to kill him—or probably both. After he’s relocated to a hotel in Nuremberg, another soldier who was sleeping in Cronley’s former bed is assassinated. There are attempts to kill or kidnap American soldiers or eliminate Nazi prisoners before they confess. The authors show some ingenious, or perhaps devious, ways that underground Nazis were infiltrating the American military.
Cronley engages in crime solving for some of the murders, but in some cases, it feels like he doesn’t have an urgent need to find the culprit. And in the latter case, the victim was a close friend of his, so I’m not sure why Cronley doesn’t make it his mission to put a bullet in the skull of the fiend who killed his friend. He does get more deeply involved in some other cases, including one involving his cousin who joined the Nazis and is being held as a prisoner of war.
Death at Nuremberg is well-researched and a reader can learn a lot about this time period in this novel. But it doesn’t make the reader feel the setting of post-WWII German has been brought to life.
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Brian Bandell is the senior reporter at the South Florida Business Journal and the author of Mute and Famous After Death from Silver Leaf Books http://www.silverleafbooks.com/Authors_Bandell.htm. You can follow him @brianbandell