I’m doing something that I’m pretty sure I haven’t done in a long time; I’m giving up on, and reviewing, a book before I’ve finished with it. The reasoning is rather simply and will, I think, become clear below.
The Man With The Iron Heart is one of Harry Turtledove’s latest ventures into the world of alternate World War II history. Here, we start with the premise that Reinhard Heydrich, one of Hitler’s most loyal deputies, survived the assassination attempt that killed him in Prague in 1943 and went on to spend the last two years of the war organizing a resistance that would continue the Third Reich’s fight after Germany herself had been defeated.
After a brief introduction, the story proceeds immediately to May 1945 and the aftermath of the Nazi Surrender. Soon after the war seems to end, though, American, British, French, and Russian forces come under attack from guerilla forces using techniques that would be very familiar to anyone who read the headlines out of Iraq from 2003 to today.
And that, I think, is where Turtledove fails.
It becomes rather obvious rather quickly that he has drawn inspiration for his story from the Iraq War and it’s aftermath and the techniques utilized by the various groups that were resisting the American occupation during that time. In fact, it becomes too obvious.
Everytime the story shifted to one of the characters in Germany, you just knew that the scene was going to end in an attack of one kind or another, no matter how implausible they might seem given the circumstances of the time. Yes, the Japanese engaged in Kamikaze attacks during the final months of World War II, but is it really reasonable to believe that Germans would do the same, and would utilize tactics invented by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, after the nation they had fought for had been ground into the dust ?
Yea, I didn’t think so either.
The sign that Turtledove was taking his Iraq analogy way too far came when he felt it necessary to bring his own Cindy Sheehan-like character into the story. Early in the book, a young soldier is killed in post-war Germany, resulting in his mother turning into an anti-war “bring the boys home” activist who meets with Congressman, leads protests in D.C. and Indiana, and even meets Harry Truman in a totally implausible scene in front of the White House.
The biggest weakness of the book, though, is it’s predictability. As I noted above, it become very easy early on to figure out when a scene leading up to a terror attack — thus removing any sense of suspense or shock from the outcome, of course. This was confirmed when I decided last night that I couldn’t put the effort into finishing the last 250+ pages of the book and decided to skip ahead randomly. There were more attacks, of course, all predictable in the context of the story and all of them inspired by Middle Eastern terrorists rather than a realistic expectation of what a serious post-WW2 German partisan movement might have been like.
This was, without a doubt, the most disappointing of all the Turtledove novels I’ve read.