Courtney's War by Wilbur Smith (with David Churchill) - book review
From the dawn of the 17th century right through to the 20th century, we have witnessed the fortunes and misfortunes of the sprawling and ambitious Courtney family as they negotiate war, social upheaval and the dark side of history.
Their creator is the phenomenally successful South African author Wilbur Smith whose thrilling novels have sold over 130 million worldwide, and whose full-time writing career began in 1964 with the publication of When the Lion Feeds.
Over 50 years later, the 85-year-old shows no sign of flagging as the seventeenth novel in the Courtney Series, and the much-anticipated sequel to the global bestseller War Cry, reaches the dangerous heart of the Second World War.
Taking centre stage in this new epic – written with David Churchill – is the feisty, fearless Saffron Courtney and her lover Gerhard von Meerbach who are thousands of miles apart and fighting on opposite sides, but still determined to keep their love alive.
Saffron grew up on a sprawling Kenyan estate under the watchful eye of her father Leon Courtney, a prominent businessman and distinguished war veteran, but her thirst for knowledge and adventure led her to England and into the arms of idealistic young German Gerhard von Meerbach during a skiing holiday in pre-war St Moritz.
But now it’s 1942 and Gerhard – despite his secret objections to the Nazi regime – is a decorated Luftwaffe pilot fighting for the Fatherland. He and his elder brother, Konrad Graf von Meerbach, a willing and trusted subordinate of ruthless Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich, belong to one of the richest and best-connected pro-Nazi families in the Reich.
Gerhard, with his movie star good looks, is seen as ‘the perfect Nazi warrior’ but behind the hero is a man driven to find a way – he doesn’t yet know how or when – to end Hitler’s tyranny and destroy the Third Reich.
But as his unit is thrown into the hellish attrition of the Battle of Stalingrad, Gerhard – still traumatised by witnessing the barbaric slaughter of Jews – knows his chances of survival are dwindling by the day.
Meanwhile, Saffron has been recruited by the Special Operations Executive in London and has undergone gruelling training which has given her a ‘lean, flinty composure.’ Dispatched to occupied Belgium to track down the traitor who has let the Nazis infiltrate the Allied Resistance network, she soon finds herself being hunted by Germany’s most ruthless spymaster.
Confronted by evil beyond their worst imaginings, the lovers must each make the hardest choice of all… sacrifice themselves, or do whatever they can to survive, hoping that one day they will be reunited.
Courtney’s War, a suspense-packed tale of courage, betrayal and undying love, is a thrilling introduction to the latest, bravest member of the incredible Courtney family as she risks life and limb in the menacing landscape of wartime Belgium.
As the action moves between Saffron’s undercover SOE missions and Gerhard’s selfless battle to help defeat the Nazis on their own killing grounds, Smith ratchets up the tension to breaking point and disturbing real history unfolds alongside a cracking adventure story.
Setting the latest Courtney saga amidst of one of the most brutal wars in history was always going to be an electrifying chapter… and this white-knuckle ride certainly delivers!
(Zaffre, hardback, £20)