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Hart's War ()

John Katzenbach, who I take it is the son of Lyndon Johnson's Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, has taken the germ of an idea, born of his father's wartime incarceration in a German POW camp, and thrown in elements of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Escape and Stalag 17 to come up with an exciting though overstuffed legal thriller.  Tommy Hart, was nearly finished with his third year at Harvard Law when duty called.  Now he's in Stalag Luft 13, after his B-25 was shot down over Germany.  He spends his time reading Edmund's Principles of Common Law, Third Edition, which he requested from home, never dreaming they'd actually send it and discussing the Law with Wing Commander Phillip Pryce, a British barrister, and Flying Officer Hugh Renaday, a Canadian police investigator. But this fairly humdrum existence is thrown into turmoil when Hart is asked to defend First Lieutenant Lincoln Scott, a Tuskegee Airman and the only black in camp, who has been charged with murdering Captain Vincent "Trader Vic" Bedford, the camp scrounger and an inveterate racist from Mississippi.

With the help of his two friends, and some surprising assistance from a Nazi official who is assigned to oversee his work, Hart is able to uncover a number of discrepancies in the case against Scott.  But in a camp where the American officers hate Scott for his race and the German authorities don't even consider blacks to be human beings, will it really matter what Hart discovers or how he handles the case?

Well, of course it does, and that's one of my main complaints about the book.  Katzenbach's basic premise cleverly plays off of the dual tension provided by the prison camp setting and the climate of racism, but somehow there's never a sense that either Scott actually committed the crime or that Hart won't get him off.  Moreover, as if the investigation and trial did not provide sufficient fodder for the book, he also works in an escape plot, and as soon as we learn that Tommy Hart is claustrophobic, we know where that subplot's headed.

I did like the book and it has all the makings of a terrific movie.  I just could have done with a slightly less busy plot and a little more ambiguity about the accused.

Charlie Herzog's Review:

I thought this book illustrated one of your favorite points-- there's a good 250 page legal thriller lurking within the 500+ pages of this book.  The premise is interesting (if unlikely), the last few chapters move along great, but Tommy's a claustrophobic?  Who cares!  Scott doesn't trust white
people?  Fine, but not endless repetitions of it!  I would've used the tiger selectively on this one-- he could've been put to good use throughout the middle of the tome, if it would've gotten us to the end earlier.



Grade: (B)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOK SITE: Hart's War (Random House)
    -REVIEW: of PRIVILEGED INFORMATION   By Tom Alibrandi with Frank H. Armani (John Katzenbach, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of MISERY By Stephen King (John Katzenbach, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE LINDBERGH CASE By Jim Fisher  (John Katzenbach, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A GATHERING OF SAINTS A True Story of Money, Murder and Deceit. By Robert Lindsey (John Katzenbach, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of EXIT THE RAINMAKER By Jonathan Coleman (John Katzenbach, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of BLUE THUNDER How the Mafia Owned and Finally Murdered Cigarette Boat King Donald Aronow. By Thomas Burdick (John Katzenbach, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW: (Random House)
    -REVIEW: of Hart's War (Dede Anderson, The Mystery Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Hart's War (The Mystery Guide)
    -REVIEW : of Hart's War by John Katzenbach (David Lazarus, San Francisco Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of JUST CAUSE By John Katzenbach (John Hough Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FIRST BORN. The Death of Arnold Zeleznik, Age Nine: Murder, Madness and What Came After. By John Katzenbach (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of FIRST BORN The Death of Arnold Zeleznik, Age Nine: Murder, Madness and What Came After. By John Katzenbach ( Alan A. Stone, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE TRAVELER By John Katzenbach (Patrick Anderson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of DAY OF RECKONING By John Katzenbach (Erica Abee, NY Times Book Review)