Communists retake Russia in this debut novel, and their Stalin-esque leader, Cheninko, fears the unified Germany that’s once again run by vile Nazis.
The Russian Army plays “crazy winter war games” near the German border, “a ruse to hide their true intentions,” which are to invade and conquer Germany. The Russians are Soviets again, the Warsaw Pact is back, and U.S. troops are still in Germany, providing the makings for a 20th century–style land war. Gen. Yovanovich promises Cheninko a victory in five days. Gragg's plot is strong and backed up by plenty of vivid, fast-moving battle scenes, with the war’s outcome uncertain almost to the end. There's no single Jack Ryan–type character the free world’s fate depends upon; brave men and women fight, and you’d better not get too attached to any of them. Ammo and adjectives abound. A bullet “smashed into [a] lieutenant’s broad chest and dug for the fragile life hidden within.” And “death was coming to scour the heavens and weed out the unworthy.” And “forty proud Russians perished in a handful of fluttering heartbeats.” And “death’s leering face entered the morose scene once again.” Yes, there are 500-plus pages of writing like that. This being the twenty-first century, America has women in combat—pretty ones, too. A female American lieutenant has an “attractive neck” and is “extremely easy on the eyes.” Gimme a break. At least she doesn’t powder her nose in her Humvee. Anyway, the Russians’ tactical nukes may not only render her allure moot—they may actually win the war. Luckily, the oddly unnamed American president has “The Final Ace” up his sleeve, and it’s a good one.
The writing isn’t great, but the action is. If you loved Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising or simply miss the 20th century, this one’s a stroll down Memory Lane.