Review by Jon C. Oliver
In the closing days of WWII in Europe, Mike Randall and Eddie Hodge, door gunners on a B-17, are shot down over Berlin. Because they dress themselves in stolen civilian clothes, they are mistaken for peasants and assigned to a forced labor camp in Konigsberg, East Prussia, instead of a POW camp. Hodge’s feet become frost bitten in the frigid weather and he becomes too ill to work. With the help of Randall and Stolz, the German overseer, Hodge commits suicide to avoid the worse fate of being left to die at the side of the road. Randall promises to look up Eddie’s father and sister and tell them what happened.
In the port city of Konigsberg, Randall finds an opportunity to escape by stowing away on a U-boat while loading crates of mysterious cargo as the part of a work detail. The SS kill the other laborers and Mike is safe for now in the former torpedo room of the U-boat. When, Bruckner, the U-boat’s captain, takes a couple of men to the bow torpedo room to inspect their cargo, Mike is discovered. Bruckner comes to like the young American airman and determines to let him go. In the Kattegat Straits between Jutland and Sweden, Bruckner surfaces his U-boat and sets Mike free in a rubber raft. This is an unfortunate maneuver for Bruckner because, before he can get his U-boat underwater, it is sunk by an RAF hunter-killer bomber. Mike looks on with horror as his new friend and his crew are blown up and sunk.
Einer Person, the captain of a Swedish fishing boat, The Brunnhilde, rescues Mike from the cold unforgiving waters off the coast of Sweden and takes him into his home. Mike is nursed back to health and spends the next six years in the small fishing port of Trellestad, working as a crewman on The Brunnhilde. When Mike decides it is time to return to the States to look up Hodge’s father and sister, Einer informs Mike that he has a substantial amount of money that has been saved for him as his wages from crewing The Brunnhilde. After a trip to the American Embassy in Stockholm, Mike departs for the United States.
Mike makes his way to Rock Creek, SC where Eddie’s father, Earl, and sister, Leslie, operate an oyster boat. While duck hunting, Mike finds the opportunity to tell Earl what happened to his son. He finds it more difficult to bring the subject up with Leslie. Mike stays on in Rock Creek because he sees that Earl needs help operating the oyster boat. His guilt over surviving when Eddie doesn’t prevents Mike from acting on his increasing affection for Leslie; even as they work more closely together on the boat when Earl needs to take a break. There is a tense status quo between them.
This is broken when Earl draws Mike’s attention to an article in the Charleston newspaper about West German Admiral Erich Bruckner’s trip to NYC as the new head of NATO’s naval intelligence and war planning section. The article claims that Bruckner spent four years in a brutal Soviet labor camp after his U-boat was sunk in the Baltic. Mike has to go to New York to confirm the identity of this West German admiral. Not surprisingly, when Mike gets the opportunity to get close to the admiral, he knows that it is not the real Erich Bruckner and that he has to convince the authorities that this Bruckner is an imposter. No one in authority will listen to Mike and he knows the only way he can prove his story is to return to Sweden and find the wreckage of U-582, Bruckner’s U-boat. With the help of some people who do believe him: a retired Jewish NYC detective, two Massad divers and Leslie; Mike heads back to Sweden and enlists the help of Einer and The Brunnhilde. Complicating their search is MVD, the Russian secret service, which is running the fake Admiral Bruckner as a mole, and Kruger, an assassin who works for Martin Borman, supposed recipient of the mysterious cargo on U-582. At the close of the war in Europe, Borman had made it to Bolivia and a hideout high in the Andes. Mike and his crew overcome the odds and locate and recover the sunken U-boat and its cargo.
While the Russians take care of the bogus Admiral Bruckner, Mike takes his time going to Bolivia to tie up the loose end, Martin Borman.
The timeline for this story is from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s. In that time you get to know Mike well. His pain with the events after he and his friend, Eddie, are shot down over Germany and Eddie’s subsequent suicide; his recovery as he works for six years with his rescuers in Sweden; and his struggles dealing with his feelings for Eddie’s sister, complicated by his guilt over surviving while Eddie didn’t.
Sometimes you want to give Mike a swift kick and tell him to move on with Leslie; to start living his life. Then the Bogus Bruckner makes his appearance and the story takes on a whole new dimension. The narrative picks up dramatically and is enhanced by several edge-of-the-seat moments climaxing as three forces race for the missing U-boat: the Russians to save the integrity of their mole; the German’s, in the form of Borman’s henchman, Kruger, to salvage their treasure; and, Mike and his crew to expose the dangerous faux Bruckner with his access to all of NATO’s naval secrets. The action sequences are very well done and kept me reading when I should have been doing other things.
The exposition is very good, description is excellent, and the narrative moves at a nice pace, particularly in the second half of the book.
This was the first book by Mr. Brown that I have read; it will not be the last.
Title: Amongst My Enemies
Author: William F. Brown
Genre: Historical Thriller
Publication: William F. Brown; December 12th, 2011
Price: $2.99 (Kindle, Nook)
Author’s Website: http://billbrownwritesnovels.wordpress.com/