W.E.B. Griffin Novels
Honor Bound 7 Empire and Honor by W.E.B. Griffin
The final volume of the Honor Bound series attempts to wrap up all the plotlines of the previous six books as the OSS is disbanded and our heroes attempt to stop a group of high-ranking Nazis from escaping into Argentina. Much of the plot focuses on the effort to find a supposed fleet of Nazi submarines that escaped the Allies at the end of the war. The submarines are thought to carry anything from Nazi officials (possibly including Hitler, himself, if he didn’t really commit suicide) to uranium and Nazi nuclear scientists.
While this is happening, our heroes continue to try and protect a small group of Nazis and their families that provided important intelligence on Soviet spy networks to the OSS. Their efforts are threatened by investigations by the State Department and other elements of the U.S. government. At the end of the last book, President Truman and General Eisenhower found out about the deal and gave their support so long as it never became public (which would have caused both men career destroying embarrassment). So much of the story follows efforts to protect these people in both Germany and Argentina.
As if that isn’t enough, Argentina is on the brink of civil war which our heroes are trying to prevent, even though that forces Clete to offer his support and protection to his despised godfather, Juan Peron. While Clete tries to keep Peron alive, Peron maneuvers to become president of Argentina. And there is always the suspicion that Peron, with his Nazi sympathies, continues to work to protect the submarines that are trying to escape the fall of the Third Reich.
Griffin does a good job of wrapping up his many storylines and ending the series with an exciting adventure.
The Brotherhood of War
Brotherhood of War 1 The Lieutenants by W.E.B. Griffin
I remember seeing this series in the bookstore back when I was in high school. I didn’t read it then, but read the whole series after I read Griffin’s The Corps series some fifteen or twenty years later. I enjoyed it, but couldn’t have told you what the plots of the various books were in any detail and only a couple of scenes stood out vividly in my memory. But I just reread The Corps so I decided to give this series a second read as well, and I’m glad I did.
The Lieutenants begins during World War II and mostly follows three young soldiers who get commissioned as officers during the course of the stories. One of them is interested in intelligence work and is smart enough to figure out how to manipulate the system to get what he wants. One is a rich playboy who was drafted and just wants out, but discovers that he likes army life. And one is an enlisted man who wins the Congressional Medal of Honor and gets commissioned. After World War II two of the men get sent to train Greek forces to fight the communists—a very interesting circumstance that isn’t broadly known to have occurred.
The story is always interesting and at times is quite exciting, but there really isn’t any real plot to speak of. It’s more of a look at the lives of these soldiers that will continue in the next novel.
Brotherhood of War 2 The Captains by W.E.B. Griffin
Griffin has found his stride in this novel. The Korean War starts and his protagonists from the last book, plus an African American lieutenant who played a small role in the first novel, all find themselves in harms way (or, in the case of the Medal of Honor winner, trying to get into harms way when the army doesn’t want him there because it would be bad public relations if he got killed). In addition to Griffin’s signature “dealing with the army bureaucracy” scenes, there are tough moral decisions and a decent amount of action. We all see more of the West Point alums protecting each other and their careers at the expense of non-West Pointers and usually against America’s interests in the war. (This sort of thing comes up enough in Griffin’s novels that I sometimes wonder if he dislikes the military academies, but it is probably just his attempt to show how those who are connected take care of themselves no matter what the cost.)
There’s a tragedy in the middle of this novel which I think Griffin handles very well, but mostly what I like about this series is Griffin’s insights into why the military functions the way it does—the good and the bad.
Brotherhood of War 3 The Majors by W.E.B. Griffin
I took several months off from rereading this series before picking it up again with this book, but most of the characters were instantly familiar again. Griffin takes his growing cast into the world of army helicopter development in the 1950s. The Air Force has and wants to keep control of all air power in the U.S. military, but the army is extremely concerned that the Air Force’s obsession with nuclear bombers is leaving them no energy (or even interest) in developing a helicopter force that can move troops in and out of combat areas. What’s worse, they are totally opposed to arming those helicopters, but many in the army are coming to believe that helicopters may serve a role similar to tanks in the next war. As if all of this isn’t enough, there continue to be problems with internal groups within the army (such as West Point graduates) who seem more interested in looking out for themselves than the good of the service. All of this creates lots of tension for Griffin’s heroes as they attempt to handle their various missions.
It's a good story that moves quickly, even if there is a little too much soap-opera-esq drama. The end scene, however, is one that I remembered well from the first time I read this series twenty or twenty-five years ago.
Brotherhood of War 4 The Colonels by W.E.B. Griffin
The soap opera aspects of this series go into high gear as Major Craig Lowell simply cannot keep his pants zipped no matter how stupid he knows he is being. Perhaps the alcoholism (which no one in the novel comes close to recognizing) is part of the problem. In any event, Lowell’s problems with sexual partners make up way too much of this story as Griffin appears to use them to pad the novel which continues to focus on the development of army air power and also the green berets. I think of this book as a positioning novel. Vietnam is coming, and to get there Griffin needed his get his cast out of the 1950s and into the Kennedy administration. Hopefully he will get back in his groove in the next book.
Brotherhood of War 5 The Berets by W.E.B. Griffin
Griffin gets his groove back with the fifth book in the Brotherhood of War series as we continue to follow the careers of the characters he established in the very first book, as well as continuing with some newer characters. All of the characters connect to the major plotline regarding the continuing effort to establish the Green Berets and efforts by many in army leadership to kill the program and turn the Berets into paratroopers.
Let’s be honest, there’s still too much soap opera romance in this tale. Every young military man (and many of the older ones) appears to think only of getting into bed with the object of their current crush and then marrying her. That may or may not be realistic, but since it didn’t always strengthen the story, it wasn’t always a good thing.
The best storyline was a very interesting bullying problem in which a sadistic drill sergeant went after a recruit and crossed way over the line. He ambushes the recruit and hurts him, but the recruit still puts the sergeant in the hospital—where the sergeant promptly gets the recruit arrested even though the sergeant (and the reader) know he was only defending himself. The tension here was great and I resented it every time Griffin left it to keep up with his other plots. It shows the military justice system in an unattractive light, and, of course, lets Griffin show his heroes battling for justice.
A lot happens in this one—including a shocking death. I hope that Griffin can maintain this level of storytelling for the rest of the series.
Brotherhood of War 6 The Generals by W.E.B. Griffin
Griffin brings his story into the Nixon Administration in what is one of the most exciting books of the series. The Green Berets have been tasked with making a raid on Vietnam with the purpose of liberating American POWs but their effort to do so is plagued by security breaches that threaten the entire mission. Griffin does an excellent job of showing three types of security threats here. Many are well-intentioned patriotic men trying to get in on the action, some are clever patriotic women who figure out what is happening from their husbands’ involvement, and at least one is an anti-war activist who happens to be the son of Craig Lowell (and wasn’t that confrontation a wonderfully emotional scene—son rejecting everything the father stands for and believes in). All in all, this is the most gripping book in the series, although I would have liked to see the actual mission get about 300 more pages devoted to it. Lowell, MacMillan, Felter, and Parker have grown up and matured into very fine officers, although Lowell still can’t keep his pants zipped and it gets him into trouble again. (Honestly, this has been a plot of every book in the series. Lowell sleeps with every female that moves and it gets him in trouble.) And of course, at least one person we have followed from book one dies making the plot even more gripping.
I think Griffin intended this to be the last book in the series because he does an interesting “this is what happened to everyone” section at the end of the book. As there are three more books in the series, I find myself wondering if we will go back to the years he glossed over during the Johnson Administration to find something for them to do.
Brotherhood of War 7 The New Breed by W.E.B. Griffin
Most accounts of the military in the sixties focus on the War in Vietnam, but America was fighting against communist efforts to destabilize regimes in other parts of the world as well. One of those fights took place in the Congo—an incredibly complicated area struggling with the remains of Belgian colonialism, tribal conflict, and the aforementioned efforts by the Soviet Union and China to cause civil strife and destabilize the region. Lyndon B. Johnson didn’t want to get involved in the Congo, but he also didn’t want the region to blow up either, which is Griffin’s opening to write about espionage and Green Beret special operations in the region. It’s an exciting book, but especially interesting for focusing on a part of the world that I don’t know as much about as I would like too.
Brotherhood of War 8 The Aviators by W.E.B. Griffin
I would not be surprised to learn that Griffin originally wrote The New Breed and The Aviators as a single novel that his editor suggested he break into two. It is essentially the same story told from the POVs of two separate groups of soldiers. Fit the two POVs together and you have a much more complete tale. The New Breed follows the men who went into the Congo to gain information and rescue hostages during a civil war and The Aviators tells the story of men who helped make the mission in The New Breed possible. It’s interesting to get the second perspective, but the novel is not as exciting as The New Breed was. It did, however, have a subplot about a soldier’s sister trying to steal a couple of million dollars from him that was the only part of the book I remembered from the first time I read it more than 20 years ago.
Brotherhood of War 9 Special Ops by W.E.B. Griffin
The first fifteen percent of this novel follows very closely the action that was already related in The New Breed and The Aviators and that was a very sad mistake on the part of Griffin. Many of the lines and descriptions are exactly the same and since I’ve been reading the books in quick succession, that almost deterred to me from finishing this final book in the series. I pushed on because I have an eight-book investment already, and I’m glad I did, but the first chapters tried my patience.
The plot of the story is a U.S. special operation to try and deal with Che Guevara by humiliating him and therefore breaking his effectiveness as a communist leader (as opposed to simply killing him and turning him into a martyr). The majority of the focus is on Che Guevara’s attempts to destabilize the Congo. As is usual for Griffin, most of the book is about military politics and the behind the scenes actions necessary to support a special operation in the fields. A significant subplot is the need to keep the operation secret, something endangered both by tragic accidents in the field and by self-important military officers who have a hard time accepting that there is something they don’t have a need to know.
This is the last of The Brotherhood of War series and it’s significantly longer than the other books. It’s not, unfortunately, the strongest of the novels and the ending very much has an ‘I need to wrap this up’ feel to it.
Concluding Comments on The Brotherhood of War
I remember seeing these books on the shelves of the bookstore back when I was in high school. I didn't read them then, but after discovering The Corps many years later, memories of those rather plain covers pushed me to give The Brotherhood of War a try. Now I've read the series twice and conceivably could read it again in ten or twenty years. (I will definitely reread The Corps someday. This one, I'm not as certain of.) It has some enduring characters and some images that stay strongly in my memory years after originally reading the books.
The Corps 1 Semper Fi by W.E.B. Griffin
I read several W.E.B. Griffin series back near the start of the millennia and loved them. Then I read a couple of isolated books of his fifteen or so years later and wasn’t so thrilled. So it was with mixed feelings that I returned to my favorite Griffin series to see if it still lived up to my memories. Thankfully, it is every bit as good as I remember.
Griffin writes a very strange kind of military fiction. For most authors, this genre is all about the battles, but for Griffin it is all about the behind the scenes work that leads to those battles. In Semper Fi we primarily follow Kenneth McCoy, an enlisted Marine stationed in China before the start of World War II. McCoy has the misfortune of being chosen by four Italian soldiers as their target for payback after several Italians got injured in a brawl with U.S. marines. In the purest form of self-defense, McCoy kills two of the Italians with a knife and the marine corps, wanting to appease the angry Italian authorities, plans to court martial him for surviving. It’s obviously not a good look for the marine corps but feels very plausible as events unfold.
After getting extricated from his court martial, McCoy falls into intelligence work, and Griffin does a fabulous job of taking this sort of activity out of James-Bond-land and making it highly plausible. At the same time, the reader’s respect for McCoy continues to grow in part because Griffin counterposes him with two inexperienced officers who have neither his brains nor his commonsense.
After “Killer McCoy” is forced to shoot a significant number of Chinese bandits to save two of his fellow marines, he gets recalled to the U.S. and put into an officer training program. World War II has begun in Europe but the U.S. is not yet involved. Again, we get to see how the Marine Corps functions as the cast of characters grows and young men try and figure out what it means to be an officer and a gentlemen as the country inches towards war.
The first novel ends with Pearl Harbor and the initiation of hostilities against the U.S. It’s an exciting page turner even though very little of the book actually depicts scenes of combat. For anyone who would like a behind the scenes look at how the military functioned in World War II, this is a great series.
The Corps 2 Call to Arms by W.E.B. Griffin
Ken “Killer” McCoy and his fellow marines return in the second volume of The Corps series as Griffin chronicles the Marine Corps trying to rapidly bring itself up to war footing after Pearl Harbor. All the characters from the last book return. Banning is blind; Pickering is in flight school; and McCoy gets drafted to spy on a fellow marine whom many in the corps believe is either a secret communist, insane, or evilly determined to destroy the corps by transforming the marines into a version of the British Commandos called the Marine Raiders. The problem with this existential threat is that the evil commander has the ear of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt—so much so that the president’s own son is a high ranking officer in the raiders.
Griffin continues to make the internal marine politics just as exciting as most writers make a battlefield. He also pays some attention to the spouses and girlfriends of active service marines, showing how the war impacts the civilian members of marine families. This touches upon the area where Griffin is weakest—his marines and their girlfriends fall in love at first sight and never look back. He does a better job with relationships that were established before the series began. And of course, he does his best job showing people maneuver and grow within the structures of the corps.
If you’re looking for a book that makes the internal operations of the marine corps breathlessly exciting, this is a good series to look at. I’m already anticipating the next novel.
The Corps 3 Counterattack by W.E.B. Griffin
This novel is less tightly bound together than the previous two in the series as the U.S. moves into World War II and Griffin picks up many of the supporting cast members of the previous two novels and elevates them into primary roles. Disappointingly, Ken “Killer” McCoy and Malcom “Pick” Pickering have almost no role in the entire novel.
Counterattack chronicles the U.S.’s efforts to gear up in the Pacific campaign as the Japanese continue to set the tempo of the war. As this is a series about the marine corps, the navy is never the focus except for one officer, the former marine corporal turned shipping magnate turned naval officer, Captain Pickering (father of Pick Pickering from the earlier books). Pickering reports directly to the Secretary of the Navy and his function in this novel is to help us understand from an eagle eye view what is happening in the overall conduct of the Pacific War. He is our insight into MacArthur and the politics between the army and navy command structures.
Mostly, though, as he always does, Griffin gives us a grounds eye look at how things get done in the marine corps. We see the early marine parachutists training. We see the marine press corps trying to raise the country’s morale. We see men getting ready to go into harm’s way. We get an absolutely fascinating look at the Australian Coast Watchers—brave men and women who reported on Japanese movements at the literal risk of their lives. And all of this leads to the landing on Guadalcanal after Griffin has effortlessly shown the reader why the entire Pacific theater depends on preventing the Japanese from getting an airbase functioning on the island.
In many ways, this book appears to be setting up the rest of the series. It’s a little high on romantic drama, but mostly what it does is establish the characters whom I presume we will be following in the next novel. That being said, it is not a slow-moving story by any means. I’m very anxious to continue reading about the corps.
The Corps 4 Battleground by W.E.B. Griffin
In the last book in this series, Griffin brought the corps to Guadalcanal, but he did so in large brush strokes mostly from an eagle-eyed view. In Battleground, he retraces some of that territory from his characteristic boots-level perspective, going over the lightning preparations for the invasion and reminding the reader again how the navy pulled out—stranding the marines on the island without giving them all their gear or even all their personnel. Griffin rarely puts the actual battles in the center ring, but you feel like you’re there anyway as reports come in and the consequences are dealt with. You also see quite a few of the people you’ve come to care about go into harms way.
In addition to battles with the Japanese, there are also plenty of the petty conflicts between the branches of service and between officers—the sort of stuff that you would think people would put behind them as they fight the Second World War but which human nature insists would become even more prevalent as the tension mounts. Even Magic—the greatest secret of the war (the U.S. had broken several Japanese codes)—is put at risk more than once for the basest of reasons.
Yet, it’s this pettiness and corruption that lets Griffin’s true heroes shine even brighter—men and women making every sacrifice to serve their country in one of its darkest hours. These books are not only exciting, they inspire us to imagine how we would (hopefully) step up when our country needs us.
The Corps 5 Line of Fire by W.E.B. Griffin
The first two-thirds of this novel is filled with Griffin’s characteristic behind the scenes maneuvering—some of it in Washington, some of it on Guadalcanal, and some of it in Australia and all of it is exciting. The book checks in with most of the large cast of characters. General Pickering is in Washington with malaria and his absence leaves his team in Australia unprotected from officers more interested in advancing their careers than the mission. His son, Pick, arrives on Guadalcanal where he joins the now familiar group of pilots fighting to keep the Japanese from retaking the island and with it quite possibly winning the war in the Pacific. And the two marine Coast Watchers, each sick with half a dozen tropical diseases, get weaker and weaker as they come to accept that their superiors in the corps have written them off. Unfortunately, this is true. Their replacements are being trained, but no effort is being made to create a plan of extraction.
The scene where that changes is one of the most moving in the series this far. Recently returned from Guadalcanal and sick with malaria, Reserve General Pickering asks a simple question—when did they kick those two young men in the Coast Watchers out of the corps. His deputy gets angry at him, but the questions stand because, as Pickering was taught when he enlisted in the corps for World War I, marines don’t leave their wounded behind and Pickering is wholly determined to bring those two young men home again.
Enter Lieutenant Ken “Killer” McCoy, veteran of the first Marine Raiders mission and star of the opening novel in the series. McCoy gets the job of planning the rescue mission—and overcoming tremendous obstacles including the hostility of superior officers. Leads to unusually granular action-writing for Griffin as the reader is taken not just through the planning but through the mission itself to see if the corps really can rescue its men.
The Corps 6 Close Combat by W.E.B. Griffin
This is another excellent volume in The Corp series, following marine aviators, infantry, and press corps as they return to the states from the fighting on Guadalcanal. On the one hand, this book is clearly setting up the next which will focus on contacting guerillas in the Philippines and the tension between the intelligence services and especially the OSS and General MacArthur. Yet it also shows other aspects of life for servicemen and women during the war—especially the press corps—and ends with a tremendously emotional moment between a very young photographer and a medal of honor winner with an attitude problem.
This series is not high on actual combat. Griffin’s gift is to make the bureaucratic operations of the war intensely exciting. He makes it look as if the war has to be first fought with the bureaucrats in the military and in Washington before guns can actually be turned upon the enemy combatants.
My first complaint, and it’s a small one, is that Griffin is extremely interested in the romantic endeavors of his cast of characters. A lot of pages get spent on these endeavors which at first appearance does not seem to be directed toward chronicling the deeds of the marines in the war. However, upon consideration, it occurred to me that the men and women in harms way probably did indeed spend a lot of time thinking about potential romantic escapades that they could pursue when off the front, and so I think that in the broader view of the lives of these men and women these pages were probably right on target.
My second complaint, again a small one, is how many of the characters are extremely wealthy. That seems improbable, but I don’t know that it is. I’ve noticed in these sorts of series that authors love to focus on officers of tremendous financial resources.
The Corps 7 Behind the Lines by W.E.B. Griffin
I really like this series. I think the gritty detail that Griffin gets into with planning and infighting between the services and what should be mind-numbing bureaucracy but is actually quite fascinating looks into how our military operates makes this series intensely exciting and highly realistic.
This book is my favorite since the opening novel, Semper Fi. It takes the readers back to the Philippines as the Japanese conquers it and focuses upon a small handful of American marines and soldiers who decide they were going to violate their orders and refuse to surrender. It then focuses upon their successful efforts to set up a guerilla operation in the Philippines and their struggle to get the U.S. to support their efforts. Getting that help is complicated by politics—Douglas MacArthur has declared that guerilla operations in the Philippines are impossible, so naturally there can be none there to support.
Enter our band of heroes in a small intelligence office in the Marine Corps who decide to make contact with the guerillas anyway. Throw in “Wild Bill” Donovan and the young OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and his driving need to control all intelligence services run by the U.S. and you have plenty of room for infighting as political needs get in the way of the practical reason for launching the mission.
Griffin gives plenty of action in this novel, but once again, it’s the preparation, the infighting, the rivalries, and the human factor that makes this novel so enjoyable.
The Corps 8 In Danger’s Path by W.E.B. Griffin
This is another stellar volume in W.E.B. Griffin’s The Corps series and it wraps up the World War II storyline by reviving plot threads from the very first book in the series. What happened to Banning’s wife and Zimmerman’s wife and kids when they were forced to leave them behind when the Fourth Marines were pulled out of China to reinforce the Philippines just before World War II began?
In Danger’s Path also spotlights those things that W.E.B. Griffin does better than anyone else in the business—show the planning of operations and the problems that come from interservice and even inter-officer rivalries. In an organic and always interesting manner, Griffin shows how different groups (Banning and Zimmerman’s wives, retired marines and Yangtze River patrol men living in China, and a few marines left on station in China who don’t want to surrender to the Japanese) plan separate efforts to get the heck out of China, across the Gobi and into India. Later, he’s going to show how plans evolve to locate those marines and use them to help set up a weather station in the Gobi that will help the navy plan its operations as it advances on Japan. This is truly fascinating stuff, made much more complex by the lack of cooperation and outright interference that various self-interested groups within the U.S. military and OSS bring to the table.
Yet the best part of the novel is the threat that Banning uncovers to the secret of Magic—the codename for everything connected with the U.S. government’s ability to intercept and decipher Japan’s supposedly unbreakable codes. It’s a secret that is giving the U.S. the edge it needs to combat the Empire of Japan and it may have been compromised. And in the process of investigating that, our hero General Pickering finally comes to the internal understanding of how stupidly cavalier he has been with the same secret. His attitude toward secret information has bothered me though out this series and it was nice that he finally came to understand how unacceptable some of his actions have been.
This is a great novel that wraps up the storylines of all of the major and most of the minor characters. I suspect that Griffin had considered closing the series with it, but fortunately he decided to return to The Corps and usher them into the Korean War in the next two volumes.
The Corps 9 Under Fire by W.E.B. Griffin
Seven years have passed between the events of In Danger’s Path and the start of Under Fire. World War II has ended and the Cold War has begun. MacArthur is in charge of Japan just a couple of weeks before North Korea invades the South. MacArthur and the U.S. has no idea that such an invasion is being complicated because MacArthur’s head of intelligence suppressed a report that suggested war was coming because it disagreed with his own assessment. General Willoughby not only suppressed the report but he ordered it destroyed and kicked the officer who wrote it out of the Marine Corps. That officer was the hero of many of the earlier books in this series, Captain Kenneth “Killer” McCoy. McCoy breaks regulations, steals a copy of his report, and gets it to his old boss, General Pickering, who is now back in civilian life. Thus begins a great addition to The Corps series.
Pickering brings the report to the attention of President’s Truman’s top military man, but the investigation into McCoy’s report is still ongoing when war breaks out. Yet that report (the correct assessment that war was coming when no one agreed with him) gives Pickering a significant amount of credibility in the president’s eyes and he is made Assistant Director of the new CIA and sent over to Japan to resume the intelligence role he played in World War II. He reassembles his old team which allows us to check in on many of the characters from the earlier books in the series as they are pulled into a new war.
As anyone who knows anything about the Korean War knows, the war is not going well. Caught unprepared and with the military cut to the bone in the draw down after WWII, even slowing the North Korean advance seems impossible. As the fighting continues, Pickering becomes aware of MacArthur’s daring plan to turn the tables on the North Koreans and he identifies a very dangerous flaw in that plan that could cause the U.S. to lose the war. So he decides on his authority as Assistant Director of the CIA to covertly (and independently) act to neutralize that danger, but if he fails, MacArthur’s whole plan will be exposed and made impossible.
There are tremendous risks in this book and the costs are not cheap as one of the main cast is lost behind enemy lines with little hope for rescuing him. If you enjoyed the first part of the series, you will definitely want to read this book.
The Corps 10 Retreat, Hell!
History repeats itself, as it actually did in the Korean War. After having been caught by surprise by North Korea initiating the war, it is clear that MacArthur and his staff are about to be caught by surprise again by the Chinese entering the war. The military part of this novel is all about Pickering (Assistant Director of the CIA) and Kenneth “Killer” McCoy trying to prove what they know—that the Chinese are preparing to invade in overwhelming strength if the U.S. continues to destroy North Korea’s military forces (and thus take over North Korea). It’s frustrating to watch happen, because the reader, of course, knows that Pickering and McCoy will ultimately fail. That doesn’t stop it from being intensely exciting.
An important subplot is that of Pickering’s son (and McCoy’s best friend) who was shot down and is trying to survive behind enemy lines. Searching for Pick is a good plot, but in many ways, the story gets even better after he is rescued and we get to see what happens to pilots who are recovered in this fashion. The military knows that many have problems after the trauma they endured, and we see their efforts at mental health care.
This is another good book in the series. Unfortunately, it’s also the last. I for one would like to see another book to complete the Korean War and then watch Pickering, McCoy, and everyone else in the early stages of Vietnam.
Concluding Comments on The Corps
You know a series is a good one when you finish it and you immediately want to start reading again from the first book. The Corps was my first experience with W.E.B. Griffin and it led me to go on to read his Brotherhood of War series and the first three books of his Honor Bound series. Rereading The Corps has convinced me to go reread those series and I expect the rest of the W.E.B. Griffin library.
Honor Bound 1 Honor Bound by W.E.B. Griffin
Argentina played a role during World War II that was similar to that of Berlin during the Cold War. As a neutral country favoring the Nazi regime, it was the focus of a great deal of clandestine activity during the war as it struggled to maintain its neutrality while both the Axis and the Allies maneuvered on its territory. This is the backdrop to W.E.B. Griffin’s Honor Bound series as he continues to explore the fascinating realm of intelligence work during World War II. The hero of this book is Cletus Frade, a marine aviator called home from Guadalcanal to take on a covert mission in Argentina to blow up a neutral vessel that is refueling Nazi submarines in Argentinian waters.
Clete is totally unqualified for this mission, as are the two men assigned to him. None have any training as spies and while one is an expert in demolitions, none of them really have a clue as to what they are doing. The one thing Clete might have going for him is that his father, Jorge Guillermo Frade, is one of the most important and influential men in Argentina. Unfortunately, Clete has never met him and everything he knows about the man (coming from his maternal grandfather) is that he is the SOB responsible for Clete’s mother’s death.
It's the slow development of the relationship between father and son that makes this such a powerful book. Griffin has never been particularly interested in “action” in the conventional sense. There are occasional spurts of it, but Griffin has always been much more concerned with the nuts and bolts about how missions are planned and information is gathered. In this novel, he gets to play with multiple cultures as well—Argentinian, German, Nazi (yes, I know those last two should be the same but Griffin paints them differently), and American. It all blends together into a fascinating look at Argentina through the eyes of an outsider at a critical moment in their history.
The mission to destroy that tanker is the heart of the story. To emphasize the danger, Griffin lets the reader know that the previous team sent on this mission has simply disappeared. Clete’s mission is opposed by both the Argentinians and the Nazis, but also by elements within the American Office of Strategic Services who believe that Clete would be of better use to them if he were dead by German hands. They figure that his father would be more likely to help the Allies if he had a personal reason to hate the Nazis.
This is a wonderful and exciting book. I read it the first time roughly twenty years ago and enjoyed it just as much on this latest reading. Yet, I want to stress that it is not a typical military novel filled with battles and fights to the death. That sort of action is the exception here, not the rule. Truth is, Honor Bound doesn’t need it.
Honor Bound 2 Blood and Honor by W.E.B. Griffin
Blood and Honor opens with the assassination of Clete’s father, which is really unfortunate because he was the most interesting character in the first novel with tremendous unplumbed depths. He was also the leading figure in a coming military coup that planned to remove the president of Argentina (who was apparently not planning to permit his future in office to be determined by democratic elections) and put himself in office (also undemocratically). With him dead (probably by German agents) a whole host of problems confronts Clete and most of the players in the first book—and most of the problems revolve around his father’s safe which holds, among other things, a written operations plan for the coming revolution, money needed to carry out the revolution, and banking and other incriminating documents that could get Clete’s German (but anti-Nazi) friend executed. The problem—no one seems to have the combination to the safe. As if that weren’t enough trouble, Clete’s secret Argentine girlfriend is pregnant and he needs to figure out how to get her parents, and the Roman Catholic Church, to agree to him marrying her in very short order. Oh, and the Nazis have put a contract out to kill one of the men on Clete’s OSS team.
So, there are no shortage of problems confronting Clete in the first half of the book (and I haven’t mentioned them all) when he returns to Argentina to inherit his father’s vast estates. Griffin handles his re-introduction to the wealth and social status of his father quite well and slowly transitions the problem to keeping the Germans from replacing the “neutral” ship that keeps its submarines supplied. To do this, Clete needs a new airplane which isn’t easy to get into neutral Argentina. He also is having trouble with his OSS superiors wanting information on his informants that he isn’t willing to give them. As if all of that isn’t enough, the coup is launched by the end of the novel causing even more trouble.
This is another fantastic novel making me wish I knew more about Argentinian history. I may have to do some reading on the subject.
Honor Bound 3 Secret Honor by W.E.B. Griffin
The third volume in Griffin’s excellent series about spies operating in Argentina during World War II focuses more fully on the Nazi efforts in this regard. At the end of the last book, two high ranking Nazi officials were assassinated in Argentina. The main storyline of this novel is the Nazi effort to find out how the Argentines (or possibly, the Americans) discovered that the German officers would be where they were (they were on a secret mission) when they were killed. Quite naturally, among those who are under suspicion is Peter, the German fighter pilot (but secret anti-Nazi) who has become an important source of information (and friend) of the series’ primary hero, Clete. When Peter is called back to Germany to be questioned, there is serious reason to fear that he will be executed, either because they find evidence against him or need a scapegoat.
The second major storyline is Clete’s wedding which has to happen with unseemly speed because his fiancé is pregnant. Her father is furious with Clete (whom he didn’t like from the beginning and now hates because he took his daughter’s virginity) and doesn’t seem particularly mollified by the fact that Clete has inherited one of the largest fortunes in Argentina. For his part, Clete despises his father-in-law for keeping mistresses.
But the most interesting storyline involves Juan Peron, who is Clete’s godfather. The reader knows that Peron will eventually lead all of Argentina. He is a German sympathizer and he is attracted to very young girls. Clete despises him but absolutely everyone is encouraging him to become friends with him. His superior in the OSS actually gives Clete an order to befriend the man. Clete already knew the spy work was serious business, but he is beginning to learn that it involves every part of his life.
Clete makes what, in my opinion, is a very serious mistake in this novel when he tells his new bride all about his espionage work. Not only is he not keeping secrets, in doing so he is increasing the danger to his men, his missions, and to his bride. This is in stark contrast to his efforts to stop an agent sent by his OSS superiors to learn the identity of Clete’s most valuable contact. (In doing so, they prove that Clete is right to keep the man’s identity secret as they obviously are willing to expose his existence in their efforts to find out who he is.)
This is another strong novel with a surprise ending.
Honor Bound 4 Death and Honor by W.E.B. Griffin
Death and Honor was published nine years after Secret Honor and I wonder if Griffin did not initially plan to end the series with the earlier book which ended on the depressing note of German (but anti-Nazi) aviator, Peter, being told to commit suicide or have his father pulled down with him when his treason was exposed. At the start of this book, Peter has not only failed to kill himself, but the man who ordered him to do so has also decided to switch sides and secretly feed information to the Americans. Griffin goes to great lengths to justify this, but frankly, I never bought it. I think the books would have been better with Clete having to deal with his friend’s death and the role he himself had played in leading up to it.
The main plot of the current novel is FDR’s instructions (passed down to Clete through the OSS chain of command) to form an Argentine airline. It was interesting watching Clete put the airline together and everyone involved wonder why FDR wanted them to do it. There is also, of course, continuing concern over the Nazis as they finally get the submarine resupply operation functioning again after Clete destroyed the first resupply ship in the first novel.
I really enjoyed this book, but it didn’t have the gravitas of the first three novels. I’m hoping that Griffin can recapture his full stride in the next one.
Honor Bound 5 The Honor of Spies by W.E.B. Griffin
The Argentine airline (South American Airlines) that Clete created in the last book continues to be a major focus of this novel. Clete adds three state-of-the-art planes (constellations) that are capable of making transatlantic flights to his fleet and begins an air service to Europe that makes it possible for American government officials to get to and from Europe faster than they had been going because in the U.S. travel is by priority pass, not simply buying a ticket. At the same time, it makes it possible for Europeans to get to Argentina much more easily and more rapidly than they had been doing—and some of those Europeans are spies.
FDR is delighted with Clete’s airlines because the use of American planes by the Argentinian company makes the U.S. look capable and powerful. Hitler is furious because Germany’s inability to set up these flights make them look weaker than the U.S. So, he orders his covert operatives to destroy the planes and make a third attempt to kill Clete while they are at it. He also wants the defectors from the last book (the Froggers) killed. And the plan may well involve kidnapping Clete’s aunt and her family to force an exchange that will bring everyone out where the Nazis can get to them.
The book started out slow, but the tension continues to grow with every chapter setting up a very exciting conclusion—and, of course, another book.
Honor Bound 6 Victory and Honor by W.E.B. Griffin
In this shortest volume of the Honor Bound series, W.E.B. Griffin brings his story to the end of World War II and begins a transition into the postwar world for his intelligence officers. The OSS is about to be disbanded, its operatives and assets divided among the FBI and the military intelligence units. This causes difficulties for the heroes of the series because they have been involved in an operation that they never reported to William Donovan, head of the OSS, because they believed he would feel honor bound to report on their actions to FDR and then a priceless intelligence opportunity would be lost. The opportunity is to find out about Soviet spies throughout the U.S. including in the Manhattan Project—a circumstance which many of FDR’s top people naively believe couldn’t happen because the Soviets were allies. The price of this information is to smuggle into Argentina many German families and in a few cases, Nazi officials. It’s this latter part of the deal that is causing the difficulties now as the Secretary of State has his own intelligence suggesting that Nazis have gotten into Argentina (many did outside of this very limited program) and he is trying to get those responsible for getting them there.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I understand the deal that was made and why it was necessary, but I also was totally uncomfortable with our heroes working to help Nazis and justifying it. It’s ugly and it weakens my support for the heroes. The truth is, I wouldn’t have minded them being exposed and suffering the consequences for their actions. However well intentioned they were, they knew they were not acting with the support of their superiors and in fact, thought their superiors might shut them down.
That being said, it’s an exciting novel and moved faster than is often the case in a W.E.B. Griffin book.