Battered But Not Beaten
Reminiscent of the works of Christopher Reich and
Ken Follett, David L. Robbins's second novel, The End of War, is a grand accomplishment of World War II intrigue centering on a defeated but still bloodthirsty Germany. In Robbins's previous bestseller War of the Rats, the author depicted the Battle of Stalingrad, where the city became a battleground of the bloodiest and most personal kind. Here, the reader is hastened into a breakneck-paced story taking place in Berlin during the closing months of the war. We witness the soldiers, generals, and heads of state on opposing sides planning strategies to literally "claim the kill" of Germany as "The End of War" unfolds.
In Berlin of January 1945, World War II draws to an epic close as the battle for the occupation of Berlin, the Third Reich's stronghold, begins. The three major Allied leaders -- Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin -- no longer entirely need or trust one another. While Roosevelt attempts to entice Stalin into joining the newly-formed United Nations, Churchill argues that Berlin must be taken before the Russians can seize the capital. Alongside such tremendous and influential world events, egos clash and old suspicions begin to rise again.
Life magazine photojournalist Charlie Bandy knows he's a part of history in the making and does his best to put a human face to the epic struggle unfolding in war-torn Germany. Also involved are Ilya and Misha, two former Russian officers who are headed for a penal battalion and must fight against the few remaining stable German forces as they march toward Berlin. Lottie, a cellist in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, does her best to survive among the ruins of the city as she suffers through air raids, faces looters, and seeks to escape both the Gestapo and the onslaught of the Red Army.
A great deal of dialogue is taken directly from history, adding a realistic dimension to the World War II scenery as Robbins impressively reconstructs life in a turbulent Berlin. Written in the present tense, we're immediately thrust into the action of the novel, which gives us direct and memorable scenes of conflict as hostilities still spark in the devastated city. The author presents us with extensive descriptions of the harshest realities of warfare, in a country where soldiers turn on their own people and thousands of corpses still await burial. Eventually everyone is drawn into head-on confrontations as the enormous scale of world power begins to tip and sway first one way and then the other.
You'll find yourself rooting for characters trapped in certain situations despite already knowing how things will historically turn out. Our protagonists are all highly credible, filled with their own uncertainties and self-involved, grandiose intentions. Robbins should be commended for taking the time to so fully research and investigate each layer of the political and cultural strata comprising a war-torn Europe, from the sophisticated German civilian trying to survive on the lawless streets, to the Russian battalion forced to plunge forward into the enemy stronghold so that Stalin can "claim the kill." The author's attention to fact permits for a more fully-rounded understanding of the motivations of both the Allies and Axis Powers. Seasoned with meticulous details and top-notch political espionage, The End of War will make you ponder the significance of mostly forgotten historical events while racing through this powerful and poignant thriller.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of eight novels, including Hexes and Shards, and his Felicity Grove mystery series, consisting of The Dead Past and Sorrow's Crown. He has sold more than 100 stories to the anthologies Future Crimes, Bad News, The Conspiracy Files, and Best of the American West II. An omnibus collection of 40 stories titled Deep into That Darkness Peering has just been released by Terminal Fright Press. Tom divides his time between New York City and Estes Park, Colorado.
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Berlin, 1945. As WWII draws to a close, the fight for a vanquished city, and for history, is just beginning. In this epic follow-up to War of the Rats, Robbins ushers readers into the sweep of history and the drama of the human face of war. Booksellers had a mixed response to this: "tedious, but interesting enough to finish."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sweeping in scope, this gripping, admirably researched historical novel resumes the account of WWII Robbins left off in War of the Rats. Picking up the narrative just before the stroke of midnight of New Year's Eve 1944, the saga moves skillfully back and forth between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill's cat-and-mouse games for postwar world control and the day-to-day hardships and terrors of ordinary figures caught up in the mortal conflict. Charley Bandy, a Tennessee tobacco farmer turned Life photographer, voluntarily returns to combat to be present for the German surrender. A pair of battle-hardened Russian soldiers, Misha Bakov and Ilya Shokhin, slog through the mud of Poland, pushing to take Berlin. And 26-year-old cellist Lottie (Charlota)--no last name given--the only female member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, lives in daily terror. Her mother is hiding a Jewish man in the cellar, and the Allied bombers are relentlessly pounding Berlin to rubble in an all-out effort to bring Hitler's Nazis to unconditional surrender. Eisenhower makes a cameo appearance, as do advisers to the Olympian triumvirate, architects of the history of the last half of the 20th century. Overwritten in places, the narrative frequently bogs down in trivia, and Robbins possesses a distracting proclivity for the random obscure (often ill-chosen) word. However, despite use of the third-person present tense, which essentially imposes the author as narrator/reporter and distances the reader from the full intensity of human experience, war buffs should find this an entertaining perspective on the end days of WWII. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Having covered the Battle of Stalingrad in The War of the Rats, Robbins's second World War II thriller details the final months of the battle for the occupation of Berlin (January-April 1945), with Churchill pleading with Roosevelt to push on to Berlin before the Russians take it and Roosevelt trying to woo Stalin at all costs into joining the fledgling United Nations. ("The war is won. The sole question is who will claim the kill.") Scenes of battle alternate with meetings among the great personalities who shape the campaign's eventual outcome--Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Eisenhower, Montgomery. At the end, after Berlin has fallen to the Russians, a Russian officer stands amidst the rubble and exclaims, "War doesn't end. It just becomes this." A first-rate tale of war, thoughtful, gritty, and compulsively readable, this work is enthusiastically recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/00.]--David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
From the Publisher
"Gripping ... breathtaking."
New York Post
"Robbins renders his real people superbly ... a notable accomplishment. ... Brilliant storytelling by an author ... in absolute control of his material."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Don't miss David L. Robbins's first stunning novel of WWII:
War of the Rats
Available now from Bantam Books
Read an Excerpt
December 31, 1944, 11:50 p.m. Bandy farm Big Laurel, Tennessee
Above his head, in the cold, dark, wind-creaked rafters of the tobacco barn, Charley Bandy sees withered souls.
Clustered five stalks to a stick, stepped several rows deep, they are hung upside down as though in punishment. The ten thousand leaves fill this lower reach of heaven. The air reeks of tar, thick, like the times Bandy has smelled blood.
Brown and drying, crowded and alike, these are not the souls of soldiers, Bandy thinks. No. The spirits of the battle-torn shine and are upright in a much higher neighborhood. There's room among war heroes where they are; what they earned for eternity with their courage and their deaths is space, distinction. Bandy is having a melancholy moment, he knows; he's being drawn back. He shakes his noggin to rattle the pull away. But the tobacco leaves drip their sticky scent and the odor is so much like gun smoke and gauze and the morning mists of Europe.
He lowers his gaze to the dirt floor of the barn. Several empty tobacco baskets lie about, waiting for another moist day to put the tobacco in case, that condition where the humidity is high to make the leaves supple enough to be handled. But this has been a dry winter, and the burley tobacco leaves, though sufficiently air-cured now dangling on their sticks overhead, can't be touched without breaking like ancient parchment. This Christmas came and went with little gift money. The family is edgy, waiting for the weather to cooperate and put the tobacco in case long enough to bundle it into hands, arrange the hands into the big woven baskets, then truck itall to the auction hall down in Marshall. The family needs to make some money, get school clothes, fix some machinery, buy next season's seed. Only a third of the leaves have been stripped and separated. The lowest leaves, called "lugs," and the paltry tips at the top all get tossed on a pile outside the barn to be used as ground cover and fertilizer. The broad middle leaves, the "smokers," get sold for bulk tobacco. The best leaves make it as far as cigar wrappers. A good, heavy harvest of smokers pays some bills.
Inside the house, Bandy's mom and dad, wife, sister and brother-in-law, dozen or so uncles and aunts and cousins and their kin wait for 1945 to arrive in another ten minutes. Every one of them lives nearby, a dog wouldn't get tired jogging between all their houses, either in Big Laurel, Little Laurel, Shelton Laurel, or on a rural road associated with no town. They are tobacco farmers up here in the Appalachian hollers. The clefts between the high slopes are narrow, and arable land comes only in slim patches, always beside the roads. Nothing makes a buck better on so little land as tobacco. The Bandys, the Ketchums, the Wallins are woven together by marriages and births like the tobacco baskets, broad and firm and white, hundred-year-old clans of soil and nicotine, pocket knives, and Saturday nights at the Masonic dance hall.
The clamor of his family's revelry--generational, those kids still awake squeal, the adults clink glasses and toast what they're going to do next year, the old folks cackle, the oldest ones cough--skim like sounds over a lake, tinkling and clear to Charles Bandy through the crisp, frostless mountain night. The mountain doesn't know it's New Year's Eve. The war doesn't know it's New Year's Eve.
Bandy opens his palms to the kerosene lantern he brought to the barn. He washes his hands in the little heat above the vent and thinks of the GIs freezing right now in foxholes and slit trenches in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and Germany. Pall Malls and Lucky Strikes are dangling from beard-shrouded soldiers' lips right now. Surely some Tennessee tobacco is glowing over there.
The barn door slides open. Leaves in the rafters rustle their wrinkles; the barn takes on the feel of a cave coated in restless bats. This eerie sense disappears in just a moment, because it is her and no room she enters is a cave. She shuts the door. She has another lantern with her.
"What're you doing out here? Everyone's inside. It's almost time."
Bandy hears the piney woods in his wife's voice. Her accent is sugary, with rounded corners, not the serrated Appalachian tongue, not the mountain laurel. She comes from the flatlands, from Hendersonville, North Carolina. Her people farm tobacco down there too. Flue cured, where they keep a fire stoked in the barns day and night. They've got big plots of land, not the sloped slivers Bandy's tribe makes pay. The two met at Vanderbilt when he was a senior and she was a freshman. He graduated in journalism, then she got her teaching degree. They married and stayed in Memphis four more years. She taught third grade, he took photos for any rag that would buy them. Then eleven years ago he carried her up here to the mountains and everyone, kids, parents, family, farmers, fell over themselves for her. She could be mayor if there was a mayor; they have a postmaster and a sheriff, that's the extent of the government in these hills.
"You all right?" she asks.
"I'm fine, Vic."
"Well, come inside. Everyone's missing you. Your mama asked me to come get you."
"I'll be along directly."
"Charley, I'm not going to celebrate the New Year with you out here in the barn. I have spent enough time without you already." He thinks Victoria is referring to their war-time, years gouged out of the last decade, years of fear for her, and that she wants to make him sorry for it right now, again. But she steps up close and says something different, sweetly.
"You have been working way too hard since you got back. Your daddy's roof. Alvin's fence. Jane and Edgar's tractor. What about our house?"
She sets the lantern on the dirt floor. She slips her arms around his waist. "What about me?"
Bandy takes in her brown hair nestled under his nose. She's only five feet five, he's a good six-footer. She's got that teacher scent, squeaky clean, a role model for the kids, for sixteen years of marriage now. She's still cute, the cheerleader she used to be in college keeps dancing and doing splits in her eyes and smiles. Except for the difference in height, they look very much alike. Both have mousy hair, both are lean-faced with brown eyes. Perhaps that's why they took to each other with such speed when they met sixteen years ago, they recognized they were cut from the same tobacco-stained cloth. Bandy breathes her in. For a moment he can't smell the leaves in their firmament, or the war in its new year.