Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Fuhrer Virus

The Fuhrer Virus by Paul Schultz
(Eloquent Books / 1-606-93117-2 / 978-1-606-93117-2 / November 2008 / 320 pages / $17.50 / Amazon $14.18)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

This espionage-suspense caper is set during World War II, but during that odd and brooding breath-of-a moment-time period during 1941 when Russia and England were in a desperate, full-out balls-to-the wall war effort against Nazi Germany. America was officially a neutral nation but teetering on a knife-edge, with powerful and influential people and organizations – within the government and without, within America and without – pulling one way or the other, according to their own dictates and reasons.

The characters and their reasons for launching a scheme to infect Hitler, then riding high as the Third Reich looked to be all but unstoppable, are intricately linked. An American industrialist and his good friend, the Senator, have good reasons for wanting to keep America neutral. There are the German army officer and his old university friend – now influential in German Intelligence – who come up with a scheme to infect Hitler with an obscure viral disease. It is supposed to be only temporary and done from the very best of motivations: to sideline the Fuhrer just long enough to keep him from interfering in the conduct of the war on the Eastern Front, and allow his generals free hand to win in the campaign against Soviet Russia.

Roped into this convoluted plot is a disgraced American Army officer, with just the right medical background… and working against it is Michael Barnes, a military intelligence agent from the loose organization that would become the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA. In an ironic contravention of the usual sort of World War II espionage thriller, his mission is to save Hitler’s life, rather than end it; since it is in the best long-term interests of the US that Hitler be allowed to thoroughly bungle his military’s war against Russia. The tangle of plots and cross-purposes are very well worked out, and in accordance with the actual historical circumstances; there were indeed substantial influences working against any involvement in a European war at that time. The FBI and other anti-espionage bodies were also quite efficient at keeping tabs on German efforts to extract an advantage from association with German-Americans. In my opinion, the one structural weakness in developing the plot was that the coincidence of Doctor Ross being exactly the sort of medical expert necessary AND being German-American, and fluent enough in German, as well has having just that very week been caught in a honey-trap. It struck me as being altogether just too much of a contrivance, and contrary to Mark Twain’s advice for those who write fiction: “confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.” Aside from that turn of plot and character, The Fuhrer Virus is a brisk and entertaining tale, and a look into a period of WWII which is usually rather underrated by the writers of this kind of adventure.

See Also: Celia's BNN Review
Paul Schultz at Eloquent Books


Peter L. Winkler said...

At the time Hitler invaded Russia, he enjoyed a continuous string of military victories, with the sole exception of the aerial Battle of Britain. Not even the most insightful military srategist would have then predicted Hitler's coming strategic mistakes.

Also, the OSS wasn't formed until nearly a year after Hitler's invasion of Russia, so the author's chronology is sloppy and ill-informed.

Paul Schultz said...

Mr. Winkler:

Thank you for your comments. I must take issue with a couple of them, however.

1) You are quite correct that the OSS was not formed until a year later. That is why the novel does not refer to the intelligence agency created in 1941 by that name (Celia Hayes's review accurately describes it as the "loose organization that would BECOME the OSS"). In July 1941, FDR commissioned William Donovan to form the "Office of the Coordinator of War Information" (then known as the COI) to function as an intelligence agency from a centralized perspective. Donovan recruited operatives from existing agencies (such as Army Intelligence, Naval Intelligence, etc.) and dispatched them on a variety of missions. The character Michael Barnes undergoes this experience in the story. A year later, after much initial success, the organization was further streamlined and renamed the OSS.

2) While it is true that many felt the German military was "invincible" at the time of the Russian invasion (a view exhibited by numerous characters in the book), the attitude was not universal. A critical strategic debate was raging between Hitler and his generals in July and August 1941 (primarily over whether or not Moscow should be immediately targeted for attack after the capture of Smolensk). The memoirs of Guderian, Halder, et. al, as well as any secondary source on WWII can provide confirmation of the dispute. The divisive relationship between Hitler and his senior commanders predated the War, and was well-known by members of British Intelligence (who were only too happy to share that knowledge with their American cousins, whom the British were actively encouraging to join their cause).

The "Author's Note" section of the book (that appears before the story begins) outlines the above historical context for the reader.

While it remains a work of historical fiction, I am confident that the novel's chronology holds up to close scrutiny.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to offer your comments.

Best regards,

Paul Schultz