Monday, May 28, 2012

REVIEW: Stormbringer / Daniel DeLacy

TITLE: Stormbringer (Apocalypse Then Part One)
AUTHOR: Daniel DeLacy
PUBLISHER: Self-published
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book)
APPROXIMATE LENGTH: 318 pages (97,500 words)

Recommended for fans of non-romanticized historical fiction, spy novels/military thrillers, and stories of World War II intrigue such as the 2008 film Valkyrie

Historical Fiction/Thriller

Stormbringer revolves around a British spy in Nazi Germany during the early days of World War II. Interspersed throughout the book are historical facts and reports from CBS correspondent William L. Shirer, which show the historical context surrounding the primary story.

Stormbringer is the first book of a series and ends with something of a cliffhanger, although one gets the sense that the story is relatively self-contained.

This is a tightly written, plot-driven book that moves very quickly from scene to scene. There are no blow-by-blow action sequences, lengthy dialogues, or detailed descriptions of settings. Instead, the narrative focuses on what’s happening and why, and thus a lot can happen in only a few chapters. The tension and intrigue surrounding the main character’s mission make this book a fascinating page-turner.

First person past tense and third person omniscient. The book is written in the form of a memoir, as though the main character, Robert Leroy Parker, were reflecting back upon his time as a spy. Thus, the majority of the narration is in first person, but every so often the book switches to third person omniscient to describe the bigger picture of what’s going on in Europe during this historical period.

Stormbringer opens with an enticing hook: a torture scene in which the unnamed first person narrator is repeatedly asked, “Who are you?” In this story of deception and duplicity, the answer to that question is anything but straightforward.

Following this prologue, we are introduced to Robert Leroy Parker, a British con man who adopted multiple aliases and pilfered millions of dollars from the Spanish government by his mid-twenties. One day in 1938, he is apprehended by the British government, which is well aware of his activities, and offered a job: to infiltrate the German military as a deep cover spy. Knowing that refusal would mean having to answer for his theft, and perhaps driven by a touch of idealism, Parker accepts.

Adopting the identity of one Michael Krause, a German American supposedly drawn back to the fatherland out of a patriotic desire to aide the Reich, Parker starts out as a translator for the Foreign Intelligence Collection Department but eventually finds himself, ironically, becoming something of a Nazi hero after participating in a number of missions, including the one that started World War II. In watching Parker’s rise, it is easy to forget that he is, in fact, a foreign spy and not and the up-and-coming young officer he masquerades as. Parker himself says that in the propaganda-filled environment he lives in, the ideology is “impossible to escape, even in your mind” and bluntly tells the reader not to “feel too superior.” Nevertheless, the dangers of his double identity constantly loom over him—he is nearly killed as a German spy while in Poland even though he was in that country to rescue two Polish scientists.

Throughout the book, there are several instances in which Parker directly addresses his readers, challenging them for presumably judging him and toying with their expectations. Oftentimes while reading, I felt as though I was in a room with Parker as he recounted his tale, for his voice comes across as genuine and relatable. Irreverent and witty, arrogant and yet and fully aware of his own flaws, Parker really comes alive and engages the reader in a way that makes it easy to forget that he is a fictional character.

At times, Parker comes across as defensive or torn as he tries to remember who he really is even though his life often depends on his complete immersion into a regime he finds despicable and ridiculous. At one point, while dressed as a Nazi officer, Parker is appalled at the sight of several Aryan boys tormenting a Jewish child and intervenes, then buys the child candy and takes him home. Only after the fact does he realize that this well-intentioned attempt to hold on to his own inner goodness might have caused irreparable damage by teaching the Jewish child to associate Nazis with kindness. Parker does not spend a lot of time dwelling on his role in starting a war that would go on to become one of the most unspeakable atrocities in human history, but moments like that give the reader the sense that he nevertheless harbors a lot of regret and add an element of tragedy to his otherwise caper-ish character.

Although Parker is a work of fiction, most of the events detailed in Stormbringer are based on well-researched historical facts, from Kristallnacht to the invasion of Poland. Parker’s “on the ground” close-up view of his life and missions during this tumultuous time is wrapped in concise, textbook-like descriptions of the historical context. Many historical figures make cameo appearances in this story, including Winston Churchill, Clause von Stauffenberg, and the Fuhrer himself.

Like any book, Stormbringer is not without flaws. At times, the third-person historical descriptions feel somewhat lengthy or intrusive, as they take the reader away from the primary story. There are also moments in which Parker’s narration grows distant, simply stating the facts of what happened rather than allowing the reader to get into his head. But overall, the book deftly handles the dichotomy of the character’s personal experience and monumental historical events he is involved in.

Between Parker’s involvement in events such as Operation Himmler, the Nazi operation to create the appearance of Polish aggression and thus justify Germany’s subsequent invasion, and the third person descriptions, DeLacy has created a historical thriller that is at once gripping and informative, surreptitiously educating the reader while entertaining.

Stormbringer is anything but a run-of-the-mill spy story. It takes a realistic, down-to-earth approach to its subject matter and avoids romanticizing the war or Parker’s role in it. The military and political drama juxtaposed with Parker’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humor give this book all the elements of a thoroughly enjoyable read.

There are a handful of typos, but nothing too distracting. The writing itself is polished and fluid, and there are no spelling or grammar issues.

There is no table of contents. The book is organized by chapters, and within each chapter, it is organized by dates and times.

There is some adult language, a handful of violent scenes (such as a description of a battle), and a few sex scenes, but nothing graphic or gruesome. In fact, the sex scenes are largely offhand mentions by the main character. There is one torture scene that some may find disturbing, but the descriptions are matter-of-fact and avoid extraneous detail.

Daniel DeLacy is a British author who was inspired to write about World War II after witnessing the human cost of the Bosnian conflict in the mid-1990s.

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