A sprawling historical novel examines the occupation and liberation of Rome during World War II.
This second book in Marquis’ (Bodyguard of Deception, 2016, etc.) trilogy focusing on some of the major events of World War II concentrates on the Nazi occupation of Rome from 1943 to 1944 and the liberation of the Eternal City by the Allies in June 1944. Like its predecessor, the work creates a broad-canvas narrative by weaving together a handful of separate storylines, in this case chiefly those of an American soldier, an Italian freedom fighter, a German colonel, and the pope himself. The pontiff in question is that controversial, so-called “Hitler’s pope” Pius XII, here portrayed with refreshing complexity as a man of fluid principles caught between an array of much stronger forces (“the thought of taking Hitler” publicly to task “in a high-stakes manner made him feel older than his sixty-six years”). U.S. Special Services operative John Bridger is a fairly standard-issue action hero whom Marquis nonetheless manages to imbue with some nuance, and the author is likewise successful in giving Italian Resistance fighter Teresa Di Domenico more personality than her central-casting role necessarily warrants. But the book’s standout character is SS Col. Wilhelm Hollmann, “the furthest thing from a rabid Nazi.” The shrewdly drawn portrait depicts a complicated German whose patriotism clashes frequently with his duties. Hollmann, who feels “no animosity whatsoever towards the Jews,” lambastes a Gestapo chief for extorting gold from Rome’s Jewish community (“Despite the fact that they paid your fiendish ransom, the Jews are still going to be sent off to their deaths”). Marquis brings these main characters and a host of minor ones together in a propulsive, fast-paced story that ranges from the battlefields in the struggle to wrest Rome from Nazi forces to the delicate, behind-the-scenes maneuverings conducted by the pope to placate the Germans long enough to give Vatican-sponsored efforts to unseat Hitler a chance to come to fruition. Marquis has a deft ear for dialogue and a very skillful hand at pacing, particularly when narrating military action sequences. The panoramic impression of his multiple character arcs is reminiscent of Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War in the way they put human faces on the era’s history.
A gripping and densely packed thriller dramatizing the Allied Italian campaign.