Scott Turow has achieved an admirable reputation as the author of novels based on lawyers and cases in fictional Kindle County, a place resembling modern Chicago. A lawyer himself, Turow has crafted intricate plots that reveal the workings of the legal system while also posing important moral and ethical questions. His latest book, Ordinary Heroes, has no trial scenes, nor does it deal with crimes committed in peacetime in the United States.
Instead, the action of the book occurs during the last year of World War II, in the Battle of the Bulge and afterward, as American troops fight their way into Nazi Germany. The book’s major figure, David Dubin, a military lawyer, has been sent into the war zone to locate and arrest an officer, Robert Martin, in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a forerunner of the modern Central Intelligence Agency. From that assignment flows the main action of the novel, as Dubin finds his bravery tested in bitter combat against the counterattacking Germans. He also learns the complexity of Robert Martin’s official and personal missions in wartime Germany.
This book is far from being merely a wartime thriller with an overlay of romance. It is framed after David Dubin’s death in February, 2003, when his son, Stewart Dubinsky, learns that his father’s military career culminated in a court-martial in which he faced the death penalty. This information, unknown to the son until after his father’s passing, send Stewart Dubinsky on a quest to find out what happened to his father during World War II. Unlike his father, Dubinsky is not a lawyer. He is a retired journalist who turns his investigative skills to unraveling the mysteries of his father’s life.
Until his discovery of the court-martial, Dubinsky had held a reassuring grasp on the past of his parents. His father had fought bravely in World War II, met Stewart’s mother during the liberation of a concentration camp, and raised his family as a prominent attorney in Kindle County. The family did not talk about what David Dubin had experienced. It was, Stewart remembered, “an unpleasantness too great for discussion throughout our lives.” Yet, as Stewart learns, family history can sometimes arise in ways that children do not anticipate.
As in Turow’s other novels, the past carries secrets that affect the present, and Dubinsky finds out more than he expected to in his desire to understand his father’s background. Stewart encounters his parents as young people through the documents they preserved and the recollections of his father’s lawyer, Barrington “Bear” Leach. A key piece of evidence is the long written explanation that Dubin provided to Leach during the course of his military trial. That tale is a harrowing account of what befell the young military lawyer in the crucible of the war in Western Europe.
David Dubin’s adventures also brought him a friendship and an even deeper relationship with Gita Lodz, a woman who was fighting with Robert Martin’s band of OSS guerillas. Convinced at first that Godz and Martin are lovers, Dubin learns of the woman’s past in the struggles against the Nazis. Dubin’s personal involvement with her fate adds another dimension to his wartime story.
One of the great strengths of Ordinary Heroes is Turow’s use of historical details of the fighting in France and Germany in 1944-1945. Into his narrative are woven extensively researched accounts of soldiers fighting and responding as the Germans retreat in late 1944 and then counterattack at the Bulge. Six decades after the end of World War II, the result now seems foreordained. To the soldiers who faced the Germans in 1944-1945, the battles were bloody engagements that persisted almost until the final collapse of the Wehrmacht in the spring of 1945. Turow’s ability to convey the dangers of combat and the fears of the GIs imparts a strong sense of immediacy and tension to his narrative.
War is not...
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