The hero here is a Polish-American combat veteran who fought with distinction in the U.S. Army during the second world war and continues his service in the postwar years as an intelligence operative. The operative—who uses the name Tony Williams along with other aliases—goes undercover in military facilities across the world to tangle with both Soviet spies and rogue Americans who abuse their power. Leptuch (James Hedges. Discreet Inquiries. Private Investigations., 2014, etc.) bookends his novel with Williams’ missions to the Kwajalein Atoll during the American testing of nuclear bombs in the area, but Williams also finds time for other adventures: skirmishing with FBI agents involved in the Roswell coverup, chasing spies at the Presidio in Monterey, flying stealth missions over the Soviet Union, and in the book’s most riveting section, Williams’ getting shot down near the Aral Sea. Leptuch demonstrates impressive knowledge of each location and historical situation. The skipping from mission to mission can feel episodic at times, but Williams’ tough, knowledgeable and clever first-person narration holds the novel together. As engaging as Williams’ voice is, though, secondary characters can feel a bit one-dimensional. Many seem to function as nothing more than straight men for William’s admittedly enjoyable banter, and the occasional third-person reporting of other characters’ perspectives is disorienting. Some readers may also be frustrated with the frequent, lengthy passages of exposition regarding historical, military or technical subjects, which can detract from the action’s pace; however, readers with interest in these subjects will appreciate the levels of research and detail. Leptuch’s attention to historical context enhances the story’s complexity, going beyond the significant pleasures of action and adventure. As readers follow Williams’ story, they’ll also be treated to a sophisticated understanding of the Cold War’s early escalation.
A well-researched adventure novel about an overlooked period in U.S. military history.