The Saboteur

Written by Andrew Gross

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

The Saboteur
RRP: £20
Released: September 21 2017

When Kurt Nordstrum, the eponymous character that gives Gross’ WW2 Adventure its title, recounts a maxim that his Father relayed to him when he battled the snowy Norwegian wilderness [“a true man goes until he can go no further, and then he goes twice as far”] – the reader is warned that we need to buckle up for a tale of daring, of endurance, of adventure and of a time of evil and of actions of those who opposed that evil; many who would die in the process.

Following last years’ staggering The One Man that changed the direction of Gross’ domestic everyman thrillers we have a second Historical thriller from the dark days of World War Two. Like its precursor, it is a fictionalised recounting of events from the Second World War, events that have been written about as well as filmed [‘The Heroes of Telemark’]. Also like its precursor, though unrelated in terms of narrative – we have the OSS / SOE [the forerunners to the CIA] attempting to thwart that Nazi regime attempts to produce the world’s first nuclear bomb.

When the Allies fail in their first attempt to destroy the heavily protected Norsk Hydro Ammonia Fertilizer Plant [NH3] which has been converted to produce ‘Heavy Water’ [D20]; they turn to the exiled Norwegian Leif Trunstad – and a second unit are despatched. This time they comprise a Norwegian team [lead by Kurt Nordstrum] with Jens and the American Eric Gutterson

Kurt Nordstrum is still in silent mourning for his fiancée Anna-Lissette who was murdered by the invading Nazis as she fled north; plus he worries about his elderly Father Alios Nordstrum, a farmer who lives alone but is under the scrutiny of the Norwegian Traitors of the National Unity Party. Kurt had promised his dying Mother that he would keep an eye on his Father, but he also balances this with his duty to his Country.

The National Unity Party are referred to as the ‘Quislong’ [named after Vidkun Quisling, the puppet leader of the Norwegian Nazis]. The Quisling are keeping watch on the elderly Nordstrum as his son Kurt is a wanted man, because of his allegiance to the exiled King of Norway and being part of the resistance against the Nazi occupiers.  

Kurt Nordstrum’s nemesis is Dieter Lund, a Captain with the Quisling; a bitter man who uses his allegiance to the Nazi regime to get the power and respect he never could attain while a civilian. Lund also shared the same school as Nordstrum, but not the same ideals.

The Allies send Nordstrum and his team of Saboteurs back into Norway to disrupt the Heavy water production from the Norsk Hydro plant, as well as the shipment of the precious liquid back to the Fatherland, disguised in barrels marked Potash Lye.

A criticism often levelled at thriller Fiction is the depth of characterisation in the narrative. In Gross’s Saboteur, you can see the white condensation from the mouths of the characters in the wintery Norwegian landscape, for they breathe and come alive from the page. The secondary characters are perhaps the most intriguing, with special mention to Norstrum’s covert field agents - Ox, Hella, Einar and Alf Larson as well as the Austrians Natalie Ritter and the cellist, her Grandfather August Ritter of the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra.

The pages of The Saboteur are slippery, as it is hard to pause as the landscape, the characters and dangerous narrative intertwine to provide an escape from reality. At times I felt like I was gripping the covers like Ski Poles in a mountainous slalom.  This thriller also helps make one think about life, death and doing the right thing even when the odds for success appear longer than a Norwegian winter.

It was also reminiscent of the WW2 thrillers of Alistair MacLean, but it has its own distinctive voice, one that reverberates into our contemporary world, for heroism and evil are human traits that have pervaded society since the days of that Garden of Eden, as has our love of evocative and hypnotic story-telling.

This thriller is perfect for those upcoming winter evenings, with the doors locked and phone switched off. I would also indicate that the Unabridged Audio version [from Macmillan/Audible] narrated by Edoardo Ballerini is remarkable.

The Saboteur is highly recommended for thriller readers who also enjoy their thoughts being provoked by insightful writing. The Afterward may surprise younger readers, because the line between fiction and fact is often blurry, not just because of the fog of war, but the tears shed for the darkness that envelops some of us we call human, but from their actions they appear feral adversaries. To defeat them, we may have to follow Alois Nordstrum’s maxim “a true man goes until he can go no further, and then he goes twice as far”; something that Andrew Gross has managed to do - penning such an exciting yet elegant historical thriller.


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