by Eric McClane
Genre: Science Fiction / Historical
Print Length: 316 pages
Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown
A fateful choice drops a WWII sergeant into horror beyond his wildest imaginings
With Cold War, Author Eric McClane turns the WWII movie tropes we all know and love on their heads. In this imaginative and exciting dungeon crawl, our heroes careen through a series of escalating dangers. The book successfully crosses multiple genres: from historical fiction to military thriller to horror to science fiction. The result is an exciting story of determination, perseverance, grit, and gore. Lots of gore.
World War II is over, except for the occupation of Germany by Allied forces, squabbling over territory and control. Hold-out Nazis conduct guerrilla activities, and America’s former uneasy ally, Russia, looks to be its new number one political enemy.
Sergeant Frank McNeil’s squad is assigned to a delicate operation: raid a Nazi terrorist cell that is located right on the border of the Soviet-US sectors. The top brass has planned a surgical strike, a quick in-and-out job. No witnesses, no evidence. And don’t step on any Russian toes. An Air Corp major is tasked to lead the mission. The men find this odd but plausible; new people join the group all the time. After all, the squad is a mix of men who have worked together through the war and several newbies assigned after the occupation of Germany.
McNeil’s enlistment term is about over, and he has a plane ticket home. His lieutenant, who is also his best friend, begs him to come along. The mission is tricky, half the men are green teenagers, and he’s not a fan of the new Air Corp major. At the very last moment McNeil choses duty over his own needs, and his fate is sealed.
The characters are a delightful slice of Americana, typical of stories from or about World War II military units: various regional farm boys and city sharpies good-naturedly (or not) harass each other but always have their compatriots’ backs when the chips are down. Their voices, personalities, and attitudes are distinct and consistent throughout the book.
For example, while still on routine patrol of Hof, Bavaria, Idaho ranch born Groves complains to Tennessee native Ervalina:
“‘Look at my boots. They’re falling apart at the seams. My foot’s freezin’…I’m tired of the cold. I’m tired of marchin’. And I sure as sh*t can’t take no more of boredom cr*p.’
“‘What you need is some good Tennessee Whiskey to warm ya up…put ya in better mood.’”
Suffice to say, the men soon regret their desire for a more interesting assignment.
While events flow out of the characters’ personalities and are directly tied to their decisions, plot is front and center for this story. The twists are wild, unexpected, and exciting. The stakes are high and continue to escalate as the book develops. Each scene is etched in conflict, gripping the reader with tension. A real page turner!
Cold War’s prose is skillfully rendered in the present tense, heightening the already high tension. The omniscient voice knows all and tells all about the characters’ inner life and emotional landscape. However, the book reveals so much through well-placed character gestures and insightful dialogue that the narrative intrusions sometimes undermine the tale’s flow. The book integrates worldbuilding details into plot, enriching the background greatly.
Readers will appreciate Cold War’s skillful amalgamation of so many delicious trope twists and genre crossovers. The ending leaves strong hints that more stories in this fascinating and dangerous world may be on the way.
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