In this thriller, a Canadian regiment joins the fight in the thick of World War II.
Nicolas Bekenbaum, a descendent from a long line of German Hussars who deserted and were absorbed into a Cossack community in Russia, is sent to Libya in 1938 to block any access Italian forces have to oil pipelines, a major blow to their operations. He heads an elite regiment of his own, some of it comprising his family, though he nominally answers to a Canadian command. After earning a sterling reputation for battlefield success, he’s trained by British paratroopers to attack a German communications and intelligence base, and scores another resounding and impactful victory. But when a reconnaissance mission in Sicily produces casualties—the result of a surprise attack from an armored car—Nicolas holds himself personally responsible, and requests that he be demoted, relieved of his command, and sent back to Canada for retraining. A review of the mission finds that, in general, the casualty rate his regiment has suffered is laudably low, but Nicolas is depleted from years of perpetual combat, and sent to Montana to train three battalions. There he meets a woman—Katherine Engelmann—and the two are immediately smitten with each other and attempt to conduct a romance by epistle after Nicolas returns to war, this time in northern England. He’s then deployed deep into German-controlled territory in France, and his regiment provides valuable support for the invasion of Normandy. Nicolas is wounded while fighting in Bastogne, and again sent back home, but his respite from combat is a temporary one once the Korean War commences. This is the fourth installment in a series from Wollbaum (Eagle’s Talon, 2016, etc.); while the reader would surely benefit from tackling the first three volumes, the author provides enough summary background for the latest to be read on its own. Wollbaum’s command of military history is astounding, and the action proceeds briskly and cinematically. The deep bond between Nicolas and Katherine blossoms so quickly it seems more contrived than romantic. But the author’s discussion of women in combat is refreshing and skillfully rendered. Wollbaum blends artful fiction and rigorous scholarship with unusual aplomb.
A historically astute and powerful account of a world fractured by war.