Friday, 20 February 2009


Long before Tom Cruise mixed his first Cocktail for Elizabeth Shue, there was Stephen Marlowe's Valkyrie Encounter, published in 1978 (shown right is the New English Library 1979 edition). I'll confess I paid it no attention at the time; it wasn't until I wrote Marlowe's obit for the Guardian (you can find it here) that I went back and searched out the novel.

After reading it, I was disappointed I hadn't at least mentioned it in my piece, because it's an interesting take on what is now becoming the familiar tale of Graf von Stauffenberg's attempt to blow up Hitler, and it approaches the subject with a far more realistic view of the history involved. That's important because Marlowe turned to historical fiction in the next decade, and proved extremely successful at it. You can see this quite easily as predominantly an historical novel, within the framework of an effective thriller. That's why I said the view was realistic. Because Marlowe turns his story into a multi-faceted examination of Nazi Germany in decline. Because Marlowe never tries to lionize the plotters, he is acutely aware that some of them wanted to get rid of Hitler simply because he was losing the war, and others because they felt the war was already lost, and if a coup replaced Hitler they might negotiate a better end to it. It didn't make them heroes, nor did it mean they were necessarily reluctant when they enforced Nazi policies for the past ten years.

But from the American (and British) point of view, would Hitler's fall have been a good thing? Would the President want to dicker with a new German government during an election campaign? Would a Germany caught in civil war between the plotters and those loyal to Hitler not collapse into chaos, opening the door for whomever was closer to Berlin (ie, the Russians) to take over? Was the root of the problem Hitler, or was it German expansionism? These are the immediate questions, and that is why OSS Captain Richard Haller is sent to Berlin, to help the plotters and ensure they fail. But it's also why the Russians have their own man, Comrade Cell (better known, after the war, as Walter Ulbricht) working to the same ends. Making things more interesting is a list put together by the Gestapo security office, of left-winger student leaders and potential plotters against Hitler. Comrade Cell wants that list, because when the Russians inevitably move into Germany, they want to be able to quickly eliminate those who might stand in their way too.

Out of these elements Marlowe builds a suspenseful story with some real depth and historical curiosity. He blends historical figures into the story, not just the obvious, but for example the anti-Hitler 'White Rose' students, a small band of young people who showed more more insight into their country, and far more courage in dealing with it, than most of their countrymen. Yet he keeps Haller's world, which is the spine of his thriller, both relatively believable and real. It's a diverting thriller, especially if it's a Tom Cruise movie from which you need to be diverted.

1 comment :

pattinase (abbott) said...

Would you object to my including this with a blog project I run on Fridays called Friday's Forgotten Books.

(my email is