Review: A World War II vintage plane bearing the markings of the Third Reich has been exposed in a glacier on Iceland, prompting a team of American officials to rush to the site to determine if it might contain long-held secrets from the final days of the war in Operation Napoleon, a stand-alone thriller by Arnaldur Indrišason.
The plane, whose passengers included high-ranking German officials but was strangely enough piloted by an American, crashed in 1945 during a severe storm while attempting to land in Iceland to refuel. The plane's destination, or even its existence, was ever recorded in the history books. It isn't until 1999 when a piece of the aircraft is exposed, its presence recorded by satellites and noted by intelligence operatives, that a secret expedition is mounted by the US government to learn more. But the mission is complicated by a local snowmobiler, who stumbles on the operation while testing his equipment on the glacier. He's captured by the Americans, but not before phoning his girlfriend about what he has seen, putting her life in danger as well.
Operation: Napoleon is a very fast-reading, generally entertaining thriller, but to enjoy it one has to merely go along for the ride and not ask too many questions along the way. The storyline follows an oft-used plot device that whenever there is an assignment to be performed and there are two choices to be made by the characters, one easy but boring, the other hard but dangerous and exciting, always opt for the latter. And if the task at hand can be made more difficult while accomplishing less, better still. Without giving too much away, the Americans are looking for some papers. The easy way to go would be to have one or two people simply board the plane and look around. It's not a very big plane, a German Ju 88 that seats maybe 8 at most. It would take 20 minutes tops. Instead, the Americans move a countless number of soldiers to the remote glacier under cover of darkness, spend days chipping away at the ice surrounding it, torture and kill one or two innocent people while they're at it, cut it in two, fly in two massive helicopters to take the pieces to a nearby airfield, where they will be loaded aboard a C-20 cargo plane and flown to South America. Seriously. (Potential spoiler but probably not, since this scene is depicted in a prologue: the papers aren't even on board.)
One might assume that this book is destined to be, maybe even written to be, adapted for film. It's got great visuals, strongly developed evil men, spunky good guys and the all-important female lead, and — probably most relevant for an action thriller — an easy to follow storyline that has just enough historical conspiracy details to be almost believable, if not quite altogether credible.
A final technical note: The translation is not among the best in this current wave of Nordic thrillers hitting US bookstores. The dialog in particular is stilted, often clunky, and sometimes unintentionally comical. Most of the characters are American, yet they speak English like a native Icelander, who might have been educated in England, or learned the language from watching British television. In other words, not at all like an American.
Acknowledgment: Picador provided an eARC of Operation Napoleon for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Operation Napoleon: Iceland
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Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indrišason
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: May 2012
List Price: $15.00
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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