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HART'S WAR by John Katzenbach

HART'S WAR

By John Katzenbach

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-345-42624-X
Publisher: Ballantine

A courtroom drama with an interesting spin on “change of venue,” the venue here being a German POW camp. Lieutenant Tommy Hart, sole survivor of a downed B-25, is spending his war in Stalag Luft 13. Like his fellow prisoners, Tommy is bedeviled by his keepers, debilitating homesickness, near starvation, and, perhaps worst of all, tedium. He counters the last by setting himself a major project: reading the law. A third-year student at Harvard when the war interrupted, Tommy’s been tapping the Red Cross for books so that he can fill his educational gaps. Then an unsettling, even scary, thing happens. He finds himself thrust into a courtroom for real. More—he’s first chair in a capital case. Still more—the defendant, his client, Lieutenant Lincoln Scott, appears to have been caught dead to rights. And even that doesn’t fully cover it. For 1942, Lieutenant Scott is the wrong color—part of a pioneering wave of black fighter pilots, a color not popular at Stalag Luft 13. On the other hand, the man Scott’s accused of murdering could have run for the Stalag presidency and won in a walk. Tommy quickly realizes that he’s been placed in first chair mostly so that it can be pulled out from under him: Both he and his client have been set up. At first, their alliance is fragile; then it strengthens as they battle to expose liars and conspirators, in and out of the courtroom, whatever uniform they might wear. As usual with Katzenbach (State of Mind, 1997, etc.), there’s just too much novel here, some of it pat and predictable besides. Intermixed, however, are scenes of considerable power, even a few of tenderness. On balance, maybe the author’s best. (Literary Guild alternate)