by Robert Harris
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Pub Date 17 Sep 2020 | Archive Date Not set
Random House UK, Cornerstone, Hutchinson
Victory is close. Vengeance is closer.
On the brink of defeat, Hitler commissioned 10,000 V2s – ballistic rockets that carried a one-ton warhead at three times the speed of sound, which he believed would win the war.
Dr Rudi Graf who, along with his friend Werner von Braun, had once dreamt of sending a rocket to the moon, now finds himself in November 1944 in a bleak seaside town in Occupied Holland, launching V2s against London. No one understands the volatile, deadly machine better than Graf, but his disillusionment with the war leads to him being investigated for sabotage.
Kay Caton-Walsh, an officer in the WAAF, has experienced first-hand the horror of a V2 strike. When 160 Londoners, mostly women and children, are killed by a single missile, the government decides to send a team of WAAFs to newly-liberated Belgium in the hope of discovering the location of the launch sites. But not all the Germans have left and Kay finds herself in mortal danger.
As the war reaches its desperate end, their twin stories play out, interlocked and separate, until their destinies are finally forced together.
‘I want to be the first to say it: Robert Harris scores a direct hit with V2. I was enthralled.’ Anthony Horowitz
‘There are very few authors that everyone is gagging to see what they publish next. JK Rowling is one and I would say Robert Harris is another’ Iain Dale
‘Harris' deceptively effortless prose means you barely notice. The effect is one of total immersion: you can feel the cold, taste the bacon sandwiches and imagine the trolleys squeaking across the floor.’ Financial Times
‘The king of the page-turning thriller’ I paper
‘Second World War buffs will enjoy Robert Harris's V2’ Independent
‘A young WAAF helps hunt for the Nazis’ V2 weapon in this astonishingly precise novel… V2 will keep you pinned on a compelling trajectory.’ Sunday Times
‘Harris has the great gift of readability; there is no living novelist whose books I am likelier to gobble up in one sitting’ Daily Telegraph
‘The novel sits alongside Fatherland etc like them V2 combines detailed research.... with atmospheric descriptions of a cowering London and the forests on the Dutch coast where the rockets were launched’ New Statesman
‘Written mostly during lockdown at a time of international political turmoil, Harris is delivering a warning about toxic futility and the ferocious propaganda needed to fuel it. His timing is, unlike the workings of the rockets he writes about, impeccable.’ Evening Standard
‘Robert Harris is at his best creating fiction that fits hand in glove with history. I love the respect he shows for the past when weaving his fictional story into real events… This is a perfect Christmas present for the historical thriller fan on the family.’ NB Magazine
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 96 members
Excellent, pacy thriller that delivers everything you’d expect from Robert Harris. Effectively covering five days in the escalating use of the V2 rockets, V2 is told from the alternating perspective of a German engineer involved in their development and a WAAF officer supporting the effort to identify where they originate from (and to stop them). Explores interesting avenues of the purity of science vs its application, reality vs propaganda and of the changing role of women in male-dominated society, without being preachy, and addresses the human cost of war, occupation and random rocket attacks simply but effectively.
I read over a day, thoroughly enthralling.
V2 by Robert Harris
I am a fan of Robert Harris’ writing and was therefore delighted to have the opportunity to review this novel which he wrote during the lockdown. The prose is very well constructed and the pacing is excellent. We view the story of the V2 from 2 sides – that of Kay the WAAF who is almost killed by a V2 in London and Dr Graf who had been a part of the bid by Von Braun to be the first to launch a rocket into space since its inception.
I found the book a gripping read; it was excellent at detailing both sides of this fascinating story. We are thrown into the action of the story immediately as Kay is almost struck by V2 whilst spending the weekend with her married lover. It was a real insight into the life of the WAAFs as they struggled to read the aerial images which had been captured by the brave boys in the RAF and also the pressure which was placed upon the German scientist/engineers to launch as many V2s as possible upon London.
Robert Harris engages your emotions leading you to invest in characters on both the British and German sides. His portrayal of the British heroine Kay Caton-Walsh who is determined to play her part in the war and locate the launch site of the V2 rockets is balanced by that of the idealist Dr Rudi Graf who has long dreamed of developing of rocket travel to the moon.
I would thoroughly recommend this novel and would like to thank the author, the publishers and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.
Victory is close. Vengeance is closer.
Robert Harris has always been great at historical thrillers and V2 continues his fine form. The arms race of World War 2 focuses on the individual struggles in Britain and Germany. It is compelling throughout, the characters are very well rounded and the subject matter is fascinating.
Another excellent novel by this renowned author who ably blends fact and fiction to pen a masterpiece of historical fiction. Set in WW11 this follows the development and deployment of the infamous V2,rocket. It is told in two voices, that of Graf , a scientist working on the rocket and Kay a young WAAF officer involved in the tracking of the rocket. There is a considerable amount of factual knowledge embedded in the storyline connected to the V2 and the part women plAyed in wartime
I always enjoy Robert Harris books. This wartime novel s a skilful blend of historical figures and facts. The author's descriptive powers make is very easy to imagine that you are there. Tremendous research from Robert Harris and his fascination for the German war machine as they desperately launch their V weapons at the end of hostilities. A very good book. Usual Robert Harris
Rudi Graf wanted to send rockets to the moon, but instead is drafted into creating the V2 rocket. Hitler creates a rocket programme of 10,000 missiles in the winter of 1944, hoping to win the war through bombing major cities in the UK and liberated territories. Graf leads the programme, but becomes increasingly disillusioned with it.
On the other side of the missile is Kay Caton-Walsh, survivor of a rocket attach, who becomes part of a unit of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force to be sent to Belgium to track the rocket trajectory and destroy the launch sites.
Robert Harris tracks back and forth between Graf and Caton-Walsh, and tells a morally ambivalent tale, of how the Allied Forces used the V2 programme after the war for their own ends - as well as the scientists who built it. At the same time, he tells the story of the ordinary citizens, whether in London or Belgium, trying to live in extraordinary times - and how some got caught up in situations where their moral compass was deeply compromised.
It's a thrilling race to the end, but it's more than that. Harris, like John le Carré, questions the assumptions of thrillers set in war-time (including the Cold War), and swerves nationalism to tell a more textured and nuanced tale of murky moral compromise on both sides. Lastly, the details sing in the novel, as do the settings in the UK, Germany and Belgium. They just feel right. A superlative piece of work.
With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy.
Nobody writes thrillers set during WW2 better than Robert Harris. V2 is even better than Enigma. Much better.
The young German scientists working at Peenemunde had dreams of building rockets to fly to the moon. Hitler had them using their skills to send rockets to destroy London.
Cleverly combining fact and fiction Robert Harris has written a thriller that gives his characters on both sides the empathy needed to make this book work.
V2 has all the tension and suspense of The Riddle of the Sands. No doubt, like that classic this thriller will also still be being read in over an hundred years time.
V2 is a wonderful novel. Completely fantastic. Harris’s style is effortless and intimate, leading the reader not just to the site of the action but into it through the delight of the characters bringing the story to life. Set in November 1944, Europe was in its sixth year of the Second World War. In the summer that year, Allied forces had broken out of the Normandy Beachheads and began pushing East through Europe. Events were beginning to turn irrevocably in favour of the Allies and Hitler would commit suicide in five months’ time. German morale was low and they needed success from their wonder weapon, the V2 rocket. Firing these from the Dutch forests rained vengeance on London.
Robert Harris is a master at bringing history to life with vivid description and most importantly, through such rich and endearing characters taking the reader right to the heart of the action. The humanity in the story leaves us rooting for characters in both the British and German sides, with the plucky British heroine, Section Officer A. V. Kay Caton-Walsh – “Kay” – stoically determined to play her part in the war and locate the launch site of the V2 rockets in the Dutch forests, countered by the idealist Dr Rudi Graf who dreamed of developing of rocket travel to the moon, but is struggling with the destructive output from the V2 programme and the gruelling intensity of the launches.
The description of a V2 rocket strike, hitting Chancery Lane in London, seemed particularly vivid for me as I’ve worked in an office in that lovely part of London. It felt voyeuristic reading the chilling five minutes of flight after launch, travelling at nearly three times the speed of sound, Harris has the reader doing the literary equivalent of hiding behind the sofa – the scene shifting from rocket launch, switching to an ordinary day in London life, back to rocket in flight, with the inevitability of the strike hitting the characters being watched. The vulnerability and bravery of Londoners who had survived the Blitz becomes clear as they have to face a new fear of the V2 rocket - terrifyingly real and chilling.
Harris paints additional colour into the story with a wide cast of supporting characters, such as the creepy womanising Wing Commander Leslie Starr – whose hands earn him the nick-name “wandering Starr” who is happily countered by the brilliantly intimidating matriarchal Flight Officer Sitwell with whom most people and their attitudes do not in fact… sit well. On the German side, Sturmscharführer Biwack from the National Socialist Leadership Office joins the V2 launch team in order to “boost their morale” and gives such a sense of immediate threat and fear with his Gestapo SS position that many times throughout the book, I stopped to draw breath, realising that the freedoms we enjoy today, take for granted today, were won by many brave men and women, on both sides of the war, fighting for these beliefs and values.
This is a powerful story, told expertly through a rich platoon of characters and draws compassion for both sides. V2 is a wonderful tale of Victory and Vengeance. I highly recommend it.
(Guest reviewer - my husband!)
What can I say, apart from this is such a great read!!
The story is told from two differing points of view, on the British side you have Kay Caton-Walsh, as WAAF officer who has a top secret job and also knows the effects of the V2, and on the German side you have Graf an engineer, who with his friend helps to develop the science behind the V2, although he eventually becomes discouraged by the German war machine.
There is a lot of technical talk, maths etc, but please do not let this put you off the story, everything does get clearer.
The book has been thoroughly and comprehensively researched and some elements of the story are just heart breaking, the description of the enslaved labour for example. Also learnt something, never knew the pre runner for space travel was the V2!
This is Robert Harris at his best. Hitler is desperate and is persuaded towards the end of the war to authorise the building of V2 rockets to be fired from Belgium to London. The story starts with one successfully finding its target in London, affecting the life off a young female officer destined to become involved in the attempt to track down the source of the V2 missions. The detail of the building and use of the weapons by the
Germans is superbly well researched. Dr Rudi Graf is an engineer who hoped to devise moon rockets but finds himself developing the V2s instead. He is a very well drawn character, intrigued by the opportunity to use his professional engineering skills but troubled by the damage he knows his work is creating. The story takes turn about being in the German side then the British. It is excellent reading. Then the two themes come to an ending with a suggestion that an element of love might be possible. This is a fascinating insight into the ambivalent views of some Germans and a rewarding read. I recommend it.
Fantastic book! I have always enjoyed Mr Harris’s books but this book really stands out as it grabbed me from the first paragraph and held me captive until the last. The story line was fresh, Mr Harris clearly researched the history very throughly which added many small details that makes the book so interesting. The characters are fully developed, for me a real mark of a master author. The locations are brilliantly drawn for you, the whole of the book is so well crafted that the story stays will you long after you finish the book. For me this is a very special read giving you an insight to a time of terror. This is a must read.
A gripping read right from the start. It was very well paced and I would recommend it. Fans of Robert Harris don’t want to miss this one!
Another great combination of historical fact and fiction by Robert Harris. The story revolves around the V2 bombs fired by the Germans in WWII, with one half of the story based around one of the scientists who developed the bombs and the other half around a WAAF officer who is part of a team trying to locate the launch sites. It rattles along and if you’ve enjoyed other of his works, I think you’d also enjoy this,
Normally I don't like novels where there is so much technology. However it works very well in this one. Basically there are 2 parallel stories which flank the development and use of the V2 bomb. The technicalities about the bomb, slow the pace of the characterisation and background to the plot. The two characters are well developed and Harris manages the difficult job of making the German scientist who is one of the main characters, fairly sympathetic. That I didn't really understand the science, didn't take from my enjoyment of the book.
A Fascinating blend of fact and fiction. Great page turner and insight into the late war effort from both sides. Would rate 5 star, gave a great understanding of how technical World War 2 was. Thoroughly enjoyable read and would definitely recommend.
This is a highly informative and detailed story of the deadly V2 rockets deployed by the Nazis in the closing stages of the war. It is told from the perspective of Kay, a WAAF officer, who with other women, is flown into Belgium in an effort to trace the launch site of the rockets, using their advanced mathematical skills. The other perspective is from Dr Graf the engineer/ scientist who is a German civilian, but has been co opted by the Nazis onto the development/ launch team for the V2s, not entirely willingly.
I have to say I found much of Dr Graf’s chapters very technical, and with many Nazi and SS officers of varying ranks and positions, from various sectors of the German war machine, the content was sometimes a challenge to mentally assimilate.
The opening chapters were utterly chilling, the description of the V2 rocket landing on London, and the resulting carnage was distressing to read, especially as we know that this part is a factual account.
The race to detect where the launch site might be, so it could be destroyed, is the main thrust of the story from a British point of view. From the German side, it is a huge push, despite the terrible human cost, to deploy as many rockets to land in London in as short a time as possible, before their launch location is discovered.
Kay’s story is fairly lightweight by comparison to Graf’s, her character is not explored in any great depth, but it portrays the role of the WAAFs in WW2 and shows how their specific skills were invaluable to the Allies.
I learned so much recent history by reading this book, although it was pretty depressing to contemplate at times. The writing is impeccable, as expected from this author. A thought provoking book with an unusual theme, I would recommend it.
My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my advance copy of this title.
This was an excellent read. The story involved the Rocket Scientists responsible for the V2 rockets as well as the WAAF officers that tried to identify the launch sites. Particularly poignant was the mention of Longbridge Road Barking. Barking was where I lived in 1945.
This book is so well researched the authenticity shines through. The story is told from both sides of the channel. For the British, it is Kay Caton-Walsh, a WAAF officer with a top secret job, who has first hand experience of the effects of the V2. For the Germans, Graf, an engineer, who with his friend Von Braun, were in at the beginning of the race to develop the rockets. This is so well written, it sets a great pace, and also makes you think. The consequences of the rockets development to both sides was immense, particularly the enslaved workforce. Atmospheric, each thread of the story beautifully woven into an authentic account of a tiny part of WWII that barely registered in any history lesson. Excellent read.
Thanks to netgalley and the publishers for an ARC in return for an honest review.
Historical fact and fiction blended together in the latest blockbuster by bestselling author Robert Harris. V2 (Hutchinson) tells the story of Hitler’s last desperate attempt to turn the tide of WWII. Hitler so desperate he ordered 10,000 to be built of the most advanced rockets the world had seen. Mostly written during the pandemic lockdown, V2 is an enthralling read.
The story is set in the winter of 1944 in London, Holland and Belgium, for Rudy Graf who used to look up at the moon and thought about designing a rocket to land a man there, life during this stage of the war took a sinister turn along with his friend Werner von Braun designed the ballistic Vengeance weapons to strike terror and death and destroy London and also Antwerp and win the war. It takes just 5 minutes from launch in Holland to hit London and there are no warnings.
In London intelligence officer with photographic reconnaissance, 24-year-old Kay Caton-Walsh has had a lucky escape when a V2 hits close to where she has been staying with a married senior officer in the RAF, now Kay wants to get more directly involved in the war effort before the war ends. Locating the launch sites for the V2 rockets has been a massive problem and now efforts are being stepped up to find them and Kay together with a team of women and officers are sent to Mechelen in Belgium to work on calculations based of the trajectory of the V2’s when they are launched and then the RAF is scrambled to the target and destroy the launch sites.
The death toll in the construction of the rockets is huge around 20,000 slave labourers were killed in the production of the V2 weapons. The rockets were never accurate but carried a one-ton warhead that caused death and devastation, the need to seek and destroy the rockets sites was now a priority.
In Holland Graf was becoming more and more disillusioned, some of the rockets were failing and malfunctioned. But now the SS officers running the sites believe Graf is involved in deliberate sabotage. Tension is running high as the high command insist on more and more rockets are launched.
Meanwhile in Mechelen it is pencil and paper and calculations that a pin pointing the launch sites. But the correct calculation has to be made in no more than six minutes to prevent another launch.
V2 by Robert Harris is a gripping and enthralling account of life during the latter stages of WWII and what it takes to try and stop the V2 rockets destroying London. It is also fascinating to read what happened at the end of the war.
Robert Harris does not disappoint - meticulous research, strong characterisation and an enthralling story.
As you read the book you do not realise you are having a history lesson on the development of rockets in pre war Germany through to the destruction of the V2 rockets.
Although technical in parts, V2 is another entertaining read from a master story teller.
A truly compelling and fascinating historical novel. The prose is excellent, the pacing relentless, the dialogue fully concise and in service to the action. The plot mainly serves as a superstructure for all the amazing information about the V2, the engineers and military, and the spies and victims of it's short reign during WW-2.
<i> As usual with my reviews, please first read the publisher’s blurb/summary of the book. Thank you.</i>
Beginning in September 1944, <b>over 3,000 V2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht</b> against Allied targets, first London and later Antwerp and Liège.
<A href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-2_rocket" target="blank">Wikipedia article on V2 Rockets</a>
<a href="https://www.allesoverboekenenschrijvers.nl/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Robert-Harris-V2-Recensie.jpg" target="blank">Full size image here</a>
The story immediately explodes into action in the first pages with Kay, the young WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) in a hotel room with her lover, just as a V2 crashes into a neighbouring building and explodes.
The story of the incredible technology, planning and execution of its launch follows from Kay's curiosity and a desire to do more than endlessly scan aerial photos of the V2 launch areas. Harris' exposition is spare and compelling, and the story provides an excellent vision of the launch areas and nearby cities in Belgium at the end of the war.
We also experience the German side from a scientist-engineer, Graf, through whose eyes and thoughts we see the technological miracle, as well as the evil of Hitler and his minions.
The prose and exposition are quite wonderful, Harris is in top form here. The book certainly did not seem to be 320 pages, and every page was terrific right up to the climax and quite-satisfying, semi-historical resolution.
<b>Note and quotes:</b>
Truly extraordinary technology for the 1940s, a triumph and a curse. A genius, Von Braun, with no impediments to his personal goal of reaching the moon, no matter how many would die to get there.
<a href="https://i2.wp.com/spacerockethistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/v2_cutaway.jpg" target="blank">Full size image here</a>
<i>Like a sprinter poised on her starting block a split second after the pistol was fired, the V2 at first appeared stalled, then abruptly she shot straight upwards, riding a fifteen-metre jet of fire. A thunderous boom rolled from the sky across the wood. Graf craned his neck to follow her, counting in his head, praying she would not explode. One second … two seconds … three seconds … At exactly four seconds into the flight, a time switch was activated in one of the control compartments and the V2, already two thousand metres high, began to tilt towards an angle of forty-seven degrees. He always regretted the necessity for that manoeuvre. In his dreams, she rose vertically towards the stars. He had a last glimpse of her red exhaust before she vanished into the low cloud towards London.</i>
V2 in transport cradle with V2 just launched in background
<a href="http://ww2today.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/V2-launch.jpg" target="blank">Full size image here</a>
<i>SIXTY-FIVE SECONDS AFTER TAKE-OFF, AT an altitude of twenty-three miles and a velocity of 2,500 miles per hour, an on-board accelerometer simultaneously cut off the fuel supply to the V2’s engine and activated a switch that armed the warhead fuse. The unpowered rocket was now ballistic, following the same parabolic curve as a stone flung from a catapult. Its speed was still increasing. Its course was set on a compass bearing of 260 degrees west-south-west. Its aiming point was Charing Cross station, the notional dead centre of London; hitting anything within a five-mile radius of that would be considered on target.</i>
<i>A hundred miles to the east [of London], the V2 had reached its maximum altitude of fifty-eight miles–the edge of the earth’s atmosphere–and was hurtling at a velocity of 3,500 miles per hour beneath a hemisphere of stars when gravity at last began to reclaim it. Its nose slowly tilted and it started to fall towards the North Sea. Despite the buffeting of cross-winds and air turbulence during re-entry, a pair of gyroscopes mounted on a platform immediately below the warhead detected any deviations in its course or trajectory and corrected them by sending electrical messages to the four rudders in its tail fins. Just as Kay was fastening the second of her stockings, it crossed the English coast three miles north of Southend-on-Sea, and as she pulled her dress over her head, it flashed above Basildon and Dagenham. At 11.12 a.m., four minutes and fifty-one seconds after launching, travelling at nearly three times the speed of sound, too fast to be seen by anyone on the ground, the rocket plunged onto Warwick Court.</i>
<i>An object moving at supersonic speed compresses the atmosphere. In the infinitesimal fraction of a second before the tip of the nose cone touched the roof of the Victorian mansion block, and before the four-ton projectile crashed through all five floors, Kay registered–beyond thought, and far beyond any capacity to articulate it–some change in the air pressure, some presentiment of threat. Then the two metal contacts of the missile’s fuse, protected by a silica cap, were smashed together by the force of the impact, completing an electrical circuit that detonated a ton of amatol high explosive.</i>
The devastation of a single V2 explosion
<a href="https://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/09/10/1410356401929_wps_3_WW_II_Gemany_Rocket_Shell.jpg" target="blank">Full size image here</a>
Early Graf and Von Braun and their club
<i>They raised money for the Society for Space Travel at a stall in the Wertheim department store. (‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ declared von Braun, ‘the man is already alive who will one day walk on the moon!’)</i>
<i>‘In Germany now there are three choices,’ Kammler told them. ‘You are shot by the SS, you are imprisoned by the SS, or you work for the SS.’</i>
<b>Incredible. The Germans killed 4x as many of their own people during construction and launch of the 3,000 V2s as eventually died from being actual targets.</b>
<i>Twenty thousand people had died at Nordhausen making the V2, four times as many as had been killed by it.</i>
<b>Interesting Acknowledgements and Historical notes from Robert Harris</b>
THE BULK OF THIS NOVEL was written during the 2020 lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For four hours every morning, seven days a week, for fourteen weeks, I retreated to my study and closed the door–a lockdown within a lockdown–and I would like to express my love and gratitude to my wife, Gill Hornby, and our two youngest children and fellow isolators, Matilda and Sam, for their good company and cheerful forbearance during this surreal interlude.
The genesis of this novel was an obituary in The Times on 5 September 2016 of ninety-five-year-old Eileen Younghusband, which described her work as a WAAF officer in Mechelen. I subsequently read her two volumes of memoirs, Not an Ordinary Life (2009) and One Woman’s War (2011). My fictional WAAF officer bears no resemblance to Mrs Younghusband,
Precisely what went on in Mechelen in the winter of 1944–5 is hard to establish, and I have had to rely on guesswork and some artistic licence.
Nevertheless, I would never have written V2 were it not for her disclosure of the existence of the Mechelen operation. I will always be grateful for her inspiration.
<a href="https://www.irishtimes.com/polopoly_fs/1.4000083.1567002376!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/box_620_330/image.jpg" target="blank">Full size image here</a>
(( I will post on Amazon UK and Amazon USA at publication date ))
My next review is as follows:-
"V2 The Brand New Second World War Thriller” written by Robert Harris September 2020 and Published In Hardcover and Kindle on 20th September 2020 320 pages ISBN-13 : 978-1786331403
The book was one that was truly superb and once started was almost impossible to put down and I read it very quickly as it was a really atmospheric and brilliantly researched historic mystery with lot's of period detail.
Rudi Graf has dreamt since childhood of sending a rocket to the moon. Instead, along with his friend Werner von Braun, he has helped 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.
In a desperate 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's 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, 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, the hope is that Kay and her colleagues can locate and destroy the launch sites.
But at this stage in the war it's hard to know who, if anyone, you can trust.
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.
The author has done a really excellent job in his research on the background to his story and |I just could not fault it in any way and I have a particular interest in reading stories about the Second World War by other authors such as David Downing and the late Philip Kerr and even though he wrote it during the lock down he has not stinted on his research and has produced a really atmospheric book which I was bowled over by. It is one of a rare breed of novel that combines being a page turning thriller yet it is also literary and it blends compelling plotting with superbly realised human emotion and excellent period detail Robert Harris is a truly first class author. Strongly recommended. (Advance copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review).
I have to say I’m a keen reader of Robert Harris novels. His subject matter is diverse and compelling. V2 is an absolute stonier if a story. It’s based on fact and brings some real people very much to life, along with the story behind the V2 rocket bombs.
I’d heard of V2s but knew little about how they worked or were developed. Thanks to the fascinating detail in this story, I’ve learned a great deal. The research appears to be meticulous and complex technical detail is presented in a way that makes it absolutely riveting. Who knew it was only minutes from launch to impact and they reached a height in excess of 25 miles? The effects were often devastating, particularly on civilians and this story outlines the desperate search to locate launch sites and put a stop to this new and deadly weapon. It highlights the complex relationships between Graf and Von Braun and the German military. It’s interesting to remember that Braun was given sanctuary in the USA after the war and their moon landing programme was reliant upon his expertise.
As expected, Harris has mixed fact and fiction in a way that makes powerful and compelling reading. It’s a book where you just need to read another chapter and another; totally immersive and a powerful and exciting plot with a range of characters who bring it all to life. I really enjoyed it and have little doubt it’ll be a best seller. My thanks to the publisher for an early review copy.
Reading this was a fabulous way to spend a wild and wet summer holiday afternoon and evening.
What I love about Robert Harris is his ability to take a piece of history and then introduce fictional characters to bring things together, explaining what is going on, the motivations and the impact of what happened.
I'd read about the V2, but never before had I understood the human cost of creating them, the way they were perceived by the Nazi's and the impact (in more ways than one) that they had on London and Antwerp. Or, the brilliant way in which the scientists involved in the German rocket programme were able to skedaddle off to America.
The weakest point in the novel is Kay Caton Walsh, a WAAF officer, and her ability to leap into bed with people at the first meeting. Not sure how credible that was in the days before birth control, but that is a minor quibble.
What Robert Harries does so cleverly in this novel is to take two protagonists, and alternating chapter by chapter bring the story to life. Having a female British lead and a male German lead highlights how unpleasant life was on both sides and the difficult decisions people have to make. The German tries to save someone, the British character turns someone in.
Then there is the non judgmental way he handles the ambivalence, what happens in the end and personal responsibility is very deft.
I highly recommend this novel.
Rightly hailed as a consummate storyteller, Robert Harris has released a lockdown-honed explosive WW11 story, focusing on the invention, manufacture and utilisation of the German V2 rocket, fired on London and Antwerp from 1944 onwards. Told through the perspective of both German and British characters, this is a fascinating recreation of the last months of the war.
At its centre are engineer Dr Graf, an increasingly reluctant participator in the German war effort, and Kay Caton Walsh, a WAAF officer, inspired by the real-life Eileen Younghusband who worked in Mechelen on the mathematical calculations needed to inform British reprisals after rocket attacks on London. This is a meticulously researched story. Whilst, occasionally, the technical details get in the way of the narrative, the author’s ability to plot, structure, inform and imagine results in a thoroughly compelling read. How fascinating, too, that a machine associated with all that is hateful, manufactured to terrify and destroy, would also inspire post-war space exploration.
My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.
Classic novel of Robert Harris. Brilliant.
WWII and all atrocities that horrific weapon as V2 brought to war maschine. Characters and atmosphere are spot on.
Very interesting and joy to read.
Robert Harris blends fact and fiction to relate the history of the V2 ballistic rockets developed in Germany, in 1944 it becomes increasingly clear to Nazi Germany that events are turning against them. The V2 is Hitler's last throw of the dice in his efforts to try and change the course of the war. He orders ten thousand V2 rockets with their one ton warheads, travelling at three times the speed of sounds, the targets primarily London and Antwerp. The damage and loss of life in London is horrific, with the British scrabbling around desperately to find a way of stopping the rockets by locating the launch sites, a task made considerably more difficult as the launch sites change. The German manufacture of the rockets places high levels of stress and pressure on the slave labour callously deployed to make the V2, the shocking loss of life, technical issues and problems plague the V2, raising the levels of unreliability.
When her affair with a married Air Commodore becomes more widely known, Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) officer, an embarrassed 24 year old Kay Caton-Walsh, an intelligence officer in photo reconnaissance, becomes part of a contingent of women heading to Mechelen in Belgium. These are very bright women under the leadership of Flight Officer Sitwell, using mathematics, working out the co-ordinates of the trajectory of the rocket, extrapolating the parabolic curve back to the launch point. This is not a danger free role as Kay is to discover. Rocket engineer, Dr Rudi Graf, is a disillusioned man, he never planned to be part of the Nazi war machine, responsible for the deaths of so many. Through Graf, Harris tells the story of the development of the V2, starting from Graf's childhood friendship with Professor Von Braun, their obsession with rockets, Graf wanting to build a spacecraft but inadvertently ends up at the strategic forefront of the Nazi war machine. Graf becomes suspected of sabotage by the Nazis.
What stands out in Harris's WW2 historical novel is the level of detail he provides on the V2, from its failure strewn history, the processes and interactions that lay behind the German teams launching the rockets, the SS pressure they are under, trying to meet their impossible targets set, working all hours, moving sites to keep the allies confused and at bay. He provides the same level of detail when it comes to the nightmare impact of the V2, the deaths and wide scale destruction in London, all of which Kay sees first hand during her visit to London, all of which conspires to drive her decision to help bring the war to an end as soon as possible in her work in Belgium. This novel is for who love their WW2 historical fiction, it is likely to particularly appeal to those interested in learning about the V2 and its impact in the war. A fascinating and insightful read. Many thanks to Random House Cornerstone for an ARC.
It is so pleasant to read a book written by a master at the top of his form. Robert Harris has produced a marvellous account of how the V2 rockets were invented and developed, the appalling toll they took in terms of deaths and in loss of morale at a time when the war seemed won and how the British found a way of locating where the rockets were being launched from.
You will ideally need a very limited knowledge of rocket science and applied maths and trigonometry to really appreciate but this is just rollicking good read with two wonderfully well drawn main characters and how their lives and perhaps even futures inter-twine.
An exceptional read and highly recommended.
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