Courtney’s War

Written by Wilbur Smith
Review by Waheed Rabbani

It’s springtime in 1939 Paris, and the model-like Saffron and athletic Gerhard are strolling arm-in-arm through the Tuileries Gardens. Both are rich and well connected—Saffron in South Africa, and aristocratic Gerhard in Germany. They’d met in St. Moritz and fallen instantly in love. But the lovers’ sojourn soon ends when Saffron, a student, returns to Oxford, and Gerhard, an architect, to Berlin. Earlier Gerhard, having helped his Jewish lawyer escape to Switzerland, had run afoul of the Nazis. But with the help of his SS officer brother, Konrad, Gerhard was emancipated, provided he became a Luftwaffe reservist. By 1942, after enduring the Battle of Stalingrad and with WWII raging, Gerhard is caught participating in an anti-Hitler conspiracy and thrown into Dachau by Konrad. Meanwhile, Saffron enlists in the British Army, and following service in North Africa, is seconded by the SOE. She is trained for undercover operations, particularly in Belgium, and subsequently for a mission to rescue POWs—which might include Gerhard.

Although this is the 17th novel in Smith’s acclaimed Courtney Series, there’s enough background material included to make it virtually a stand-alone. Both major and some minor events of WWII, such as the infiltration of the SOE agents (with help from South African nationalists) into the Belgian network of Nazi sympathizers, are interwoven into the plot expertly. The extensive research and Smith’s knowledge of the locations (which he normally visits) make this novel an interesting and informative read. There is some aggrandizement of the main characters and occasional use of dialogue that seems written for readers’ benefit (such as Gerhard saying, “Is it really only three months since we met?”). However, the distinctive fast-paced action results in a page-turner that’s perfect for a long train or plane journey.