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Hart's War Hardcover – March 30, 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Stalag 17 meets the best of John Grisham in this tremendously exciting and moving new thriller, about a murder trial inside a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. John Katzenbach has taken elements of his own father's history in such a camp, added a racial twist (the defendant is a black pilot, a member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen), and created a memorable adventure story that soars with hope and cries out to be filmed.

The first thing that former law student Tommy Hart does after his B-25 is shot down and he--the only survivor--is captured, is to fill out a form for the International Red Cross, telling his family he's alive and requesting, under "Special Items Needed," a copy of Edmund's Principles of Common Law. Amazingly, the book is waiting when he arrives at Stalag Luft Thirteen in the Bavarian woods. Hart soon puts it to good use, defending (with the help of two other prisoners, a former London barrister and a Canadian police detective) the prickly, proud Lieutenant Lincoln Scott when he is charged with killing a racist and corrupt fellow prisoner. The Nazis, especially a resident SS observer, have their own reasons for wanting the trial to be seen as a fair one, and it takes place against the backdrop of a planned mass escape.

Katzenbach deftly balances a dozen major characters with credible scenes of legal and extra-legal action. His previous thrillers, available in paperback, include Day of Reckoning, In the Heat of the Summer, Just Cause, The Shadow Man, State of Mind, and The Traveler. --Dick Adler

From Publishers Weekly

Vivid and unpredictable characters and diabolically imagined suspense distinguish Katzenbach's (The Shadow Man) seventh novel. Set in the desperately bleak landscape of a German POW compound during the latter days of WWII, this is a thriller with more on its mind than entertainment, as Katzenbach tackles the theme of racial bias that breeds explosive consequences. Held captive since 1942, 2nd Lt. Tommy Hart?ex-Harvard Law student and navigator on an ill-fated B-25?is one of the most senior POWs at Stalag Luft 13 when African-American 1st Lt. Lincoln Scott, P-51 pilot, arrives as a new prisoner in May of 1944. Abrasively antisocial, lone-wolf Scott isolates himself from the other American officers, and quickly becomes the target of racial hatred from oft-decorated, Mississippi-born Capt. Vincent Bedford, aka "Trader Vic"?a treacherous wheeler-dealer who will barter anything to friend or enemy alike. He is soon found in the latrine with his throat cut and Hart is appointed to defend the obvious suspect, Scott, against what seems to be his impending rendezvous with a firing squad. Facing almost hopeless odds, Hart enlists the aid of two British POWs with astute forensic credentials. Slowly, a pattern of deceit begins to take shape, revealing duplicity from both POWs and captors. Katzenbach's setting is flawlessly grim, and his characters chillingly reveal the divisive bigotry of soldiers ostensibly fighting for the same values, as well as some unexpected sources of redemption. Despite some unnecessary repetitive details (e.g., the ineffectively recurring symbol of Hart's cherished wristwatch), this deeply affecting, artfully paced war epic will hold readers enthralled to the nail-biting end. Military Book Club and Literary Guild alternates; film rights to MGM.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 490 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1st edition (March 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034542624X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345426246
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,556,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on May 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I am a company commander in the US Army and my wife recently purchased this book because she knows of my fascination with military history. I must confess, I normally read non-fiction accounts because I find them thoroughly more fascinating and compelling than any fiction can provide. However, my wife took the time and effort to get this book after I briefly mentioned seeing it advertised here on Amazon so I figured I ought to read it. I am currently in the middle of a training exercise in Louisiana in preparation for my unit's rotation to Bosnia and our peacekeeping efforts there. We have very little contact with the outside populace and are surrounded by guards, towers, wire and lights. Very eerie when reading this book. Of course, the situation we are in is by choice, but the story is much more relevant and fascinating when read inside a prison-style environment surrounded by soldiers and sweltering conditions and apportioned food and away from loved ones. I have found placing oneself in as close to the context of a book as possible brings to life more nuances from the author than would otherwise be noticed when reading in a comfortable armchair or in bed. Further, context can also reveal the nuances missed by the author. Mr. Katzenbach has not missed any. In fact he describes more touching moments of the human condition than I thought possible. There are enough wonderful synopses of this book so I would like to comment on what I felt enlightened upon. First, above and beyond anything having to do with the military or law or war, this book dealt with the human condition of American and German men in WWII as a reflection of the society they sprouted from. Namely, how we as human beings view and, more importantly, treat each other. When all is said and done, Mr.Read more ›
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
At first look, the basic plot of HART'S WAR is nothing extraordinary. A black man is framed by a racist populace for the murder of an ostensibly popular white man. And, of course, a novice lawyer, with zero experience in capital murder cases, is assigned as defense counsel for the trial. Ho-hum. The premise is so threadbare that I normally wouldn't have read beyond the jacket. But, hang on a minute ...
In this multi-faceted thriller by John Katzenbach, the place is Stalag Luft 13, a Luftwaffe prison camp for allied flyers shot down in WWII. The accused, Lincoln Scott, is a fictional black pilot of the real-life, famed 332nd Fighter Group (the Tuskegee Airmen), who was downed while heroically defending a crippled B-17 bomber. He's the only Negro prisoner in the camp, and a aloof loner by choice because, you understand, he distrusts whites. The victim, Trader Vic, is a respected bomber pilot from Mississippi that had become the stalag's expert trader in forbidden goods. Lt. Tommy Hart, the navigator of a downed B-25, stands for the defense. Tommy, who left law school to join the Army Air Corps, has essentially finished his law studies while as a POW by reading every legal text he can lay his hands on. The Senior American Officer, Col. MacNamara, and the camp commandant, Luftwaffe Oberst Von Reiter, only want to get Scott's court-martial wrapped up quickly without undue embarrassment to either the Americans or the Germans.
This novel unfolds on many levels. It is, of course, a courtroom drama. But it's also a war drama, a detective drama, a prison drama, and an escape drama. Young Hart is clearly the reluctant, white-hatted good guy, but the moral and ethical issues revealed as he squares off against the rest of the camp remain elusively gray.
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Format: Hardcover
John Katzenbach's latest is a bit of a departure. Set in a POW camp during WWII, it combines incredible drama with timeless lessons about race, duty, and honor. The characters are unforgettable, this is a classic in the vein of To Kill a Mockingbird. The best book I've read in a while.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
At a POW camp for Allied airmen, a prisoner is murdered. Suspicion immediately falls on Lincoln Scott, the only black man in the camp and a target for the dead man's racism. Bomber navigator and law student Tommy Hart is ordered to defend Scott in what is clearly going to be little more than a polite form of lynching. But as Hart begins his investigations, he soon realises that nothing in the camp is what it seems...
This is a superb twist on the legal-thriller genre, the twist being of course that all the protagonists are captives. By confining himself to such a restricted world, Katzenbach must rely on storytelling ability - there's no chance for sex scenes, chase scenes, or various other stock distractions. He succeeds admirably; it's been a while since I read a story with such good pacing and tension. (Conversely, the Stalag environment means that other typical genre things such as characters creeping round in the dead of night to find evidence make a lot more sense).
What lifts Hart's War further above the genre are the characters and the tensions between them: while the basic theme is concerned with racism, little else could be considered black-and-white. Most intriguing are the Germans, who may be The Enemy but aren't necessarily the "bad guys". There are several sides playing off each other, and much of the intrigue (and entertainment) comes from trying to decide who gains from what. Topping it all off are some honest musings on heroism and courage.
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