V2: A Novel of World War II
V2, also known as the Vengeance Weapon, was Hitler’s desperate, last-ditch attempt at salvaging a war already lost. The world’s first Long-range Guided Ballistic Missile and the precursor to modern rockets that brought about the Space Age, V2 travelled at thrice the speed of sound and wreaked devastation—more psychological than physical—on the cities of the Allied Powers towards the end of 1944.
What began as the obsession of a few brilliant young men who dreamed of touching the stars finally ended up as a weapon of mass destruction and terror—mass produced and literally mass launched with the menacing efficiency of the Nazi war apparatus. What is incredible is the fact that those men chose to ignore the thousands of deaths caused by their rockets—both during their production and their operation—focussing only on the technological advancement that will make their dream come true once the war was over.
V2: A Novel of World War II by Robert Harris is the story of V2 and, more importantly, the people whose lives were intertwined with that of the rocket. It is the story of Rudi Graf, a long-time associate of Wernher von Braun—the architect of the V2 rockets, who is disillusioned with the Nazi cause while assisting the launch of the rockets that he himself had helped design. It is also the story of Kay Caton-Walsh—a British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) officer having an affair with the Air Commodore—who volunteers, after her narrow escape from a V2 attack, to join a team of women tasked with helping the Allied Powers beat the V2.
Switching back and forth between Rudi’s and Kay’s points of view, Harris narrates the events on both sides of the sea—the Dutch coast from where the rockets are launched under tremendous pressure from the desperate Nazi leadership and Britain, where the RAF is scrambling to find some means of thwarting the deadly attacks. The British action then shifts from London to a small town in Belgium, with a geography conducive for the Allied radars to monitor the flight path of the V2s, where Kay and her teammates toil to pinpoint the launch sites for RAF to attack. Meanwhile, the paranoid Nazi regime is suspicious of Rudi’s allegiances and he is living on borrowed time.
Robert Harris is renowned for creating fascinating fiction from little snippets of history and V2 is no exception. The book is crisply written, with well-etched characters and a fine blend of fact and fiction. Harris brings the locales, people, and events to life with just a few deft words. Though not packed with action, V2 has several suspenseful moments that keep the reader hooked. The technical details of the rocket and the process of tracking its path are presented engagingly, without putting off the reader with jargon. The climax is not as satisfying as one would expect, but it rounds off the story nicely.
V2: A Novel of World War II is an absorbing read that tells an important story. Recommended to all aficionados of historical fiction, especially World War II historical thrillers.