The Malta Independent 9 May 2021, Sunday

Parallel lives

Noel Grima Tuesday, 27 April 2021, 09:42 Last update: about 12 days ago

V2. Author: Robert Harris. Publisher: Hutchinson/ 2020. Pages: 312pp

With a whole list of books (mostly fiction) to his name, and some being turned into films, Robert Harris is one of the better known authors in today's English-speaking world.

We may group many of his books into two well-defined groups: those on Ancient Rome and those on what could have happened during and after World War II.

For ease of explanation, I will start with his books on Roman history. We have here first Pompeii and after that his trilogy on the life of Cicero - Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator.

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Having come to writing novels from journalism - he worked for the BBC and The Observer, which later enabled him to write some non-fiction books about Neill Kinnock and about people around Margaret Thatcher - he became famous all over the world with Fatherland in which he imagines that Germany had won the war. This was turned into a film.

Next come Enigma, about the German Enigma machine, and the work to unravel it done by scientists in Cambridge and Bletchley Park during the war and Archangel, on digging up sensitive diaries from Stalin's time.

His prodigious output continued with An Officer and a Spy on the Dreyfus case and Conclave on the selection of a Pope.

Then, returning to spin-offs from WW2, Munich on the negotiations leading to the 1938 meeting between Hitler and Chamberlain, and finally this novel, set in the dying days of WW2.

Rudi Graf has dreamt since childhood of building a rocket and sending it on the moon. Instead, together with his friend Wernher Von Braun, he finds himself helping to create the world's most sophisticated weapon - the V2 ballistic missile, capable of delivering a one-ton warhead that travels at three times the speed of sound.

Although the war is almost over and Germany is losing it, in a desperate last bid gamble to avoid defeat, Hitler orders 10,000 to be built.

Now, in the winter of 1944, Graf finds himself in a bleak seaside town in occupied Holland. Haunted and disillusioned, he is tasked with firing the V2s at London. Nobody understands the volatile, deadly machine better than he does.

Kay Caton-Walsh is an officer in the WAAF. She has experienced at first hand the horror of a V2 strike. As the rockets rain down on London bringing death and havoc, she joins a unit of WAAFs on a mission to newly liberated Belgium. Armed with little more than a slide rule and a few equations, Kay and her colleagues hope to locate and destroy the launch sites.

But for every action on one side, there is an equal and opposite reaction on the other. As the death toll soars, the separate stories of Graf and Kay ricochet off one another until, in a final explosion of violence, their destinies are forced together.

 

 


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