SOLDIERS OF '44 by William P. McGivern


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Thriller-writer McGivern (Night of the Juggler) tries for a big WW II novel here, but only the thriller aspects of this overambitious book really work. It's 1944, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Germans are desperate: in addition to manic counteroffensives, they're trying a secret operation, Operation Greif, in which English-fluent Huns will infiltrate American lines at sensitive tactical points and cause havoc. Thus, the American soldiers now have to be extra wary, and any G.I. unknown to another has to prove himself by spewing forth Americana: ""The Palmer House, the Drake, the Cubs and White Sox, Chicago University, and more polacks than you'll find in Warsaw."" So when a young private shows up in Sgt. Buell Docker's unit and says he was cut off from his own assigned platoon, Docker wonders if the kid's a German. Docker guesses instead that the private turned tail and ran under fire, but the kid soon proves his heroism by mapping out an ingenious anti-tank strategy that unfortunately takes his own life as one of the few American casualties. Then: Docker's earlier mere mention of possible cowardice in a report gets him into hot water with the brass; the kid, it seems, comes from a long line of West Point generals. It won't do to even suggest that he once was yellow, and not-very-subtle pressure is applied on Docker; the whole unit's reputation will be besmirched and dismantled if he doesn't amend his recollection. Docker's refusal--and the court-of-inquiry scenes--almost make up in terms of drama for McGivern's downfall here: ponderous, pedantic battle chapters. A neat, ironic tale inflated into an uneven and toneless, but often smoothly rewarding, big novel.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 1979
Publisher: Arbor House