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Hart’s War

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

World War II was racially segregated, the lowliest jobs going to African American GIs. A distinguished few called the Tuskegee Airmen, however, became officers in the U.S. Air Force, escorting bombers in their lethal new longrange Mustang fighters. When proud, defiant First Lieutenant Lincoln Scott arrives at Stalag Luft Thirteen, he is subjected to hostile treatment by bigoted airmen who refuse to acknowledge that any black man can equal them in skill and courage. Scott’s persistent tormentor, Captain Vincent Befford, is soon found murdered. Second Lieutenant Tommy Hart, the only prisoner with any legal training, is appointed to defend Scott in a formal military trial observed by top- ranking German officers, who will furnish the firing squad when Scott is almost certainly convicted.

While investigating the murder, Hart learns that Bedford was killed for revealing information about escape plans in exchange for luxury goods and special privileges. At the climax Hart, who suffers from acute claustrophobia, forces himself to crawl down a dark, crudely reinforced tunnel to confront the real murderers and is dragooned into helping eighteen desperate, dirt-choked American officers escape.

John Katzenbach’s six previous novels include two Edgar nominees and New York Times best-selling legal thriller Just Cause (1992), made into the 1994 movie starring Sean Connery. In Hart’s War, Katzenbach does an excellent job of recreating the cold, hunger, tedium and anxiety of existence in a POW camp. He relied heavily on war stories of his own father, former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, a B-25 bomber navigator captured after being downed in the Mediterranean in 1943.