Customer Reviews: Retreat, Hell! (Corps, No 10)
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on January 21, 2004
A major improvement over the mediocre Under Fire, Griffin returns to form with Retreat, Hell! He shows his usual impeccable attention to detail and histoical accuracy, which was sadly lacking in Under Fire.
This novel covers the peiod in the Korean War in which the situation turned around for the UN forces and the overextended North Koreans were chased back across the 38th Parallel with the US Army and its allies in full pursuit. The Pick Pickering-is-MIA situation is resolved in an imaginative way I didn't see coming; a couple of new characters are introduced who seem very interesting (and don't I just wish Griffin could rewrite the Brotherhood of War series to integrate them into it!); and a character is killed off in a way that is utterly consistent and tragic, with the potential for serious impact on others in the next book. Good writing.
I have to admit that I find what Griffin is doing with Ken McCoy a little disconcerting. He seems to think McCoy's name is Mac MacMillan and that he is running Task Force Able. However, as Griffin seem to have no intention of crossing any Brotherhood of War characters over to The Corps (given what he has his characters doing, I would have expected at least passing references to the activities of MacMillan and Mouse Felter, if not to Duke Lowell and his panzers), I suppose there are no grounds for complaint.
The timeline is heading into the final confrontation between Truman and MacArthur. The one thing that surprised and disappointed me, given El Supremo's frequent appearances and conversations with Brigadier General Pickering, is that there is no sign of the animosity that was building, not even at the Wake Island Conference (or 'summit') between Truman and MacArthur; at which he has Pickering present at Truman's orders. Both men commented extensively on it in their autobiographies, but their dislike for each other is absent here. Griffin usually has a better feel for interpersonal relations between major real people than that.
Griffin also, which earned him my respect, addresses the issue of medals for valor that are awarded for other than the type of actions for which they are supposed to be presented. The problem was epidemic in Vietnam, but I didn't realize its roots went back to Korea. This subplot, involving Ken McCoy, Billy Dunn, Pick Pickering and General Clyde Dawkins (and I wish we saw more of The Dawk), offers an informative look not merely at the process by which medals are awarded, but also at the warrior ethos which permits warriors to accept them - or not.
The bottom line: While I wish W.E.B. Griffin would go back and finish the World War II portion and the interbellum part of this series (in particular the sections dealing with McCoy's time at the Command & General Staff College, how and why he was reduced in grade from major to captain when by time in grade he would have been in the zone for promotion to lieutenant colonel, how on earth the cowardly, self-serving Macklin was promoted and why he wasn't run out of the service, and whatever happened to a number of characters I care about), this book is a page-turner I gulped down in one afternoon. The tempo is fast and the visual melody sharp and clear. It's well worth reading, and more than once.
The trouble is, now I have to wait impatiently for the next one!
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on January 5, 2004
After _Under Fire_ I felt the _Corps_ series was at a bit of a crossroads. We'd skipped the end of WWII, deactivated a number of great characters, and had a mostly combat-free book. What was coming next?
Now that I know (thanks to a bookstore that was casual about release dates), I like the direction it's going. In this installment of the _Corps_, the Korean conflict is under way. The old warhorses are summoned to the colours again, or at least those Griffin has kept.
Griffin has always portrayed military and naval culture superbly; I think he could do it in his sleep if he cared to. He is the Gale Sayers of the genre; like the Kansas Comet in his own field of fame, there just isn't anyone who can catch him. The strength of the story lies in some fairly vicious twists that left the ending very much in doubt: might this character die? Would Griffin kill him off? I am a veteran of every Griffin military book, and I could not predict the story's outcome. It clamped on--and held, to the end.
I have never really let up on Griffin over the years with regard to the instant defloration of virgins and speedy bed-jumps, and fair's fair: he's improved this to where I think we can let it go. I can't say that it's gone--and it remains just about the only area in which his stories are quite predictable--but it does not dominate this story. There is also decreased dependency upon rich smartalecks with trust funds: the book takes that shortcut less than I've seen from Griffin for a long time.
In my mind there is little question: while we might not have in Korea a backdrop as rich and desperate and high-stakes as World War II, we have a great story going on here. I hope that we'll see Stecker and Rickabee again, from the old _Corps_ books, but even if we don't, Griffin has revitalized one of the best military fiction series there is. I hope it continues for a long time.
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on January 5, 2004
By late September 1950, sent by General Douglas "El Supreme" MacArthur, the marines make a key landing on the Korean Peninsular. The General plans to send his forces across the 38th parallel in order to repel the North Koreans beyond the Yalu River. Though he expects no Chinese forces, he has USMC Major Ken "Killer" McCoy and his "lost" patrol seek enemy information.
Meanwhile BG Pickering earns frequent flyer miles as he struggles to lessen the growing dispute between Commander-in-Chief Truman and ex facto supreme commander of the United Nation's forces MacArthur. Pickering also has a personal concern with his son "Pick" missing in action beyond enemy lines. Pick knows if the Commies capture him, they will execute him. He has survived fifty-eight days due to luck, some local help, and by constantly moving about, but staying near his downed plane. Killer finds evidence that Pick still lives, but cannot search for the MIA as he and his men have captured an apparent Intel Officer with information that massive Chinese forces await the Americans.
No one does American military history novels better than W.E.B. Griffin does as he shows with this deep look at the early stages of the Korean Conflict. The story line grips the audience from the moment Pick struggles to survive and never lets up. The key as always to the Corps novels (this is the tenth) is the support cast that brings out real events so that the audience feels the battle as much as the political intrigue at home. Genre fans will once again salute the Five Star General for his wonderfully exhilarating book.
Harriet Klausner
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on January 5, 2004
W.E.B. Griffin fans will love RETREAT, HELL! It is a real page turner. After receiving an advance copy from Putman in early December I immediately began reading and couldn't put down until the very end. It is vintage Griffin and shows time and care in writing that was lacking in his last Corps novel. It has excellent editing (as opposed to the terrible editing in UNDER FIRE.) Action is nonstop with twists and surpises throughout. I could tell you what some of these are but don't want to spoil readers enjoyment. It will go down as one of Griffin's best.
Ed Evanhoe, Author: DARKMOON: Eighth Army Special Operations in the Korean War
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on August 22, 2005 write great, realistic fiction. If you read the earlier novels in the series, you get to know "Pick" Pickering pretty well. If you're like me, you've been worried about your old pal ever since he was shot down near the end of the last book. I wouldn't want to ruin it for anybody, so I won't give away any details. I'll just say this was a great wrap-up of a great series!
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VINE VOICEon April 30, 2016
Griffin concludes his series with the fateful events of fall 1950. MacArthur’s bold counterattack at Inchon has reversed the Korean War’s tide and has the North Koreans retreating in disarray. MacArthur wants to press his advantage into North Korea and finish the war by Christmas, but Truman and his Pentagon advisors fear MacArthur will draw the Chinese into the war. MacArthur’s staff is telling him there’s no risk of that.

Major Ken McCoy disagrees. Nearly cashiered from the Marines before for predicting a North Korean invasion a month or two before it actually happened, now called back to the CIA, his intelligence suggests the Chinese have secretly sent tens of thousands of men into North Korea, with many more poised to join them. But he doesn’t have hard evidence and once more the brass won’t listen to him, setting the stage for the Allies being taken by surprise once more.

His boss Brigadier General Fleming Pickering and Truman’s own trusted buddy and adviser Major General Louis Howe trust McCoy’s judgment and have to work delicately between the MacArthur and Truman camps. Truman worries that if he fires MacArthur, a potential rival in the 1952 presidential election, he’ll appear to have acted for personal reasons.

Pickering’s pilot son Pick is still MIA, shot down behind enemy lines and, as we learn at the outset, alive, hungry and desperate as he tries to avoid capture. His war-correspondent girlfriend is desperate for news of him, as is Pick’s childhood friend, the now-pregnant Ernestine McCoy, who has moved to Tokyo to be closer to her husband. Pickering has to come to terms in the story with his devil-may-care approach to life and who has been harmed by it.

This is another book with little action, a lot of background and a boatload of Famous Grouse scotch whiskey about a war too many of us know too little about. It’s the dawn of age of the military helicopter and jet, the first hot war of the Cold War, the first time the U.S. must fight wars in a limited fashion, fretting about going too far or setting off a wider and potentially nuclear war. I wouldn’t have minded one more book in this series, telling us what happens after the Chinese surge across the border and the American and South Korean troops must retreat yet again.

I like the characters of reservists called out of their comfortable lives to fight this sudden war, and of the women who bitterly resent their being sent off to war yet again. Griffin likes to get beyond pilots and spies and tip-of-the-spear warriors to give us those who make up the masses of the military. There is an efficient regular who runs a transportation company and hopes to parlay good work into a career-move promotion. There’s a slick car salesman now a captain over an infantry unit, thrown into the breach at Pusan, held in reserve at Inchon, and now ashore in the administrative fog of war without anyone having a good idea of what to do with them. There’s a cryptographer snagged by Pickering and his people because, formerly in Europe, he has no ties to MacArthur’s cryptographers and can keep things mum.

And I like his handling of the month-to-month mood – the desperation and pessimism of the first couple of months, and the manic surge of confidence after Inchon with most people agreeing the war can be over by Christmas. Griffin, to his credit, doesn’t give any of his characters the prescience to know it will drag on until June 1953, but allows the ones we like best to remain silent on the matter. And Griffin is as ever excellent on the cross-currents and politics at the top, between White House and Pentagon, between Pentagon and MacArthur, between MacArthur and the fledgling CIA and so on.

I was a little disappointed that not all of the series regulars had their lives brought forward. I would have enjoyed a line or two describing what happened to them after World War II. Having spent ten novels with them, I will miss these characters.
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on May 26, 2016
Readers: this book is a bit frustrating because it stops in 1951and the Korean war would go one for several more years. It also leaves Pick in NP limbo and I hate books with no happy ending. It made me feel like there should be one more book in the series but of course that didn"t happen. AND, although the reader knows that ultimately MacArthur was relieved, that information is not part of the story but in the author's end remarks. I would have liked to read about that discussion within the CIA- Far East compound.
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on August 27, 2015
I've re-read this series three times, my all time favorite, feel like I'm back in the service serving
In Korea, brings back vivid memories of that time and the places I've been associated with this great series, met him once at a book signing and asked why did never continued the series since it was so popular, he wanted to expand his horizon to another time ....
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on May 28, 2016
I have read all 10 of "The Corps" books and find them to be excellent novels. Mr. Griffin has a great deal of knowledge of military workings and brings this knowledge to his books. I really enjoyed "The Corps"
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This book is an epic, in the grand style, set during the Korean War of 1950-53. Following the Inchon landings, the North Korean Army is on the run. But, even as they follow, the leadership of the American army is locked in internecine war of its own, even as General MacArthur plunges ahead taking advice only from those who tell him what he wants to hear. But, this is not just a story of generals. This is also the story of a downed Marine fighter pilot who begins to learn humility, and an intelligence team whose hard-earned information is not wanted.

OK, I must admit that this is the first W.E.B. Griffin book that I have read, so I cannot compare it to any others. But, what I read impressed the heck out of me. This is a great story, less about wars than about the men who fight them; their loves and hates, their sense of duty and their overweening pride. I really enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it to you.
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