Sunday, August 24, 2008

Second Objective by Mark Frost - Book Review

I don’t usually read in that thriller sub-genre of “spoil the desperate Nazi plot” literature. Since we’ve known for sixty years who won the war, there would seem to be little suspense. Since the subsequent career of the second objective is also well known, the outcome of the book is predetermined when a reader opens it. Another way to approach this book is as a police procedural. As an example of that format, Mark Frost’s The Second Objective does a pretty good job, although at times it reads more like a movie treatment than a novel.

I picked up The Second Objective because I had read and enjoyed three other Frost books. In Grand Slam, Frost treats golfer Bobby Jones’ 1930 grand slam as the unparalled athletic feat it was. The Greatest Game tells the story of golfer Francis Ouimet’s victory in the 1913 U.S. Open, a tale of a poor caddy’s surprising rise to the top of the golf world. Both books were interesting inside views of the world of golf in an earlier age. Frost first novel concerns the life of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes in The List of Seven, so for me he had a track record that made picking his book an easy choice despite my suspicions about the Nazi theme. Frost has been associated as a writer and producer with major television projects like “Hill Street Blues” and ‘Twin Peaks.”

At the opening of The Second Objective, Colonel Otto Skorzeny, leaves Hitler’s bunker in command of a raiding party charged with infiltrating Allied lines and confusing the enemy as German armies rallied to attack in Germany’s final desperate rally that became the fabled Battle of the Bulge. Certain of the infiltrators were tasked with a second objective, which is detailed and expanded in this novel. Frost’s narrative takes two parallel lines, following charming, roguish psychopath Erich von Leinsdorf and his German/American partner Bernie Osler as they work behind American lines sowing confusing while heading towards Paris to achieve the second objective. They are pursued by Earle Gannit, a New York homicide detective serving in the Criminal Investigation Division of the Allied military police and his partner Ole Carlson as they slowly become aware of a pattern leading them to follow von Leinsdorf and Osler even before they have identified them or their mission. Through a series of close encounters, the two lines begin to merge, the ultimate meeting often short circuited by von Leinsdorf’s willingness to kill without conscience despite Osler’s increasing attempts to leave clues without getting caught in the cross fire.

Gannitt and Carlson pursue their prey across France and Belgium with a bunch of harrowing close close calls and many plot twists. In too many episodes the cinematic nature of the narrative makes The Second Objective seem more like a novelization of a movie or an extended treatment of a movie pitch. I expect this book was optioned for film, but I won’t wait too eagerly for the movie to appear, since most optioned treatments never reach production. Perhaps turning a film treatment into a novel increases the chances of a payday for the author. A larger flaw in this novel lies in the too obvious dropping of certain clues. To work really well, important clues should sneak up on a reader, only becoming clear as clues when they are revealed. Frost’s clues often drop like a bomb when they are planted, rather than insinuating themselves until they explode in a reader’s face.

Finally, The Second Objective is an interesting diversion, but doesn’t rise to the level of must read thriller. Frost has written more interesting pieces about golf, and his Conan Doyle mystery is exciting and intriguing. I’d stay, “Stick to them.”