- Publisher: Replica Books (April 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0735104565
- ISBN-13: 978-0735104563
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,461,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Blue Max Hardcover – April 1, 2001
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I only knew the movie with George Peppard, and only now I've read the source material. I will not dwell on the differences, but I will comment only about the book.
The characterization of Bruno Stachel is superb (altough I tought the ending was a little bit forced...). The other main characters are Jastafueher Otto Heidemman, chief-mechanic Ziegel and chief squadron assistant Kettering. The book ifs full os incredible vivid narratives. BEar in mind that air combat is only a means to and end in this books, they are not the main intent here. The are mentioned with enough knowledge and action, but just to move the plot forward.
All in all, this is a very good book. Writer Jack D. Hunter began by chosing "the other side" to write aobut, which was already unconventional choice. Only four years after this unconventional choice was published, it was already a film (a very good one, by the way).
Note: the only thing I tought distracting here is the casual way in which Heidemann and Stachel keep shooting down british airplanes. Yes, they mention the shortage of spare parts, pilots, supllies, to the squadron, but one never feels that, in 1918, Allied air superiority was atrociously huge over the Germans, and simply reamining alive was a fact of great wonder!
The thing that surprised me about reading the novel is how GOOD it is. It might not be great, but it certainly does not deserve the oblivion it has received. It is a fairly compelling read, with many compelling insights into the characters. Although the dogfighting scenes are mostly realistic, the novel's main strength is the examination of the characters. The plot flows from character, and I was delighted at how well Jack Hunter delineated them. This novel is not just good war fiction -- it is good fiction.
That being said, I'm not sure people who have no interest in World War 1 aviation would want to read it. They should, though. This novel is a fascinating story of many flawed people and how they affect each other at a time of horrendous tragedy. The stress of the times forces them into roles they would not have filled in peacetime.
On another note, Hunter includes many details that add to the story. One of my favorite details is the running commentary on the "field gray" wool uniforms. Not only does he describe the look, he also describes the smell of "wet wool" and how these small descriptive details affect the characters. Overall, Hunter is a skilled writer.
Hunter had reason to want to know. He served in U.S. military intelligence in WW2 and was a key player in Operation Nursery, a sting operation designed to smash the underground “Fourth Reich” movement which sprung up in Germany after the war ended. Well, Hunter’s answer is revealed in the form of the book’s protagonist, Bruno Stachel. In the last year of WW1, Stachel arrives at a fighter squadron on the Western Front – a young man of uncertain personality, whose only salient characteristics seem to be social awkwardness, a mercurial temperament and raging alcoholism. Nobody knows what to make of this fellow, but Stachel soon reveals a fourth quality – his incredible, obsessive, ruthless thirst for personal glory, which both alienates his squadron mates and draws the attention of his squadron commander, Otto Heidemann. A stern, uncharismatic, by-the-book Prussian, Heidemann sees in Stachel an opportunity to advance his own secret ambitions...but to do so, he must ensure that Bruno becomes a famous ace and wins the coveted medal the Orden Pour le Merité , the famous “Blue Max.” This is easier said than done, because the only thing that Stachel is good at aside from putting away liquor and people is getting into the worst possible kinds of trouble. Before the story is half-finished, he’s been blackmailed, assaulted several of his squadron-mates, committed a cold-blooded murder, seduced the wife of one of the few men who has his best interests at heart, and generally behaved like the selfish, exploitative bastard he is. Yet beneath all this muck there are polyps of decency. Stachel knows he’s a rotter and a user and despises himself, and part of him longs to be the “good fellow” he periodically can be. And that, in the end, is the crux of THE BLUE MAX. Which way will Stachel turn? Which side of his Jekkyl & Hyde (mostly Hyde) personality will he embrace? He knows the glory he’s chasing is illusory, that no amount of money, fame, medals, women or alcohol will fill the void in his soul…but he also knows that surrendering to evil is easier than fighting it. And in some ways, more comforting as well.
THE BLUE MAX is a strange novel. Hunter’s dialogue is very good, almost noirish in its crackling cynicism, and his fluent understanding of the German language allows him to write in English yet convey the subtleness of German in a way very few writers have ever done. His prose style is picturesque in many ways, even lurid, yet usually pleasing to read, and he has a keen understanding of alcoholism and the loneliness that underlies it (“It was the same as always. He had known it would be as soon as he had scented the keenness of the brandy. The first one was a liberation, a salving shift of the melancholy and aloneness. The second was nothing special, the clicking sharpness in the chest having fled with the diminishing first. The third and fourth and fifth and the others were wooden repetitions, a mechanical process that went on simply because it couldn’t be denied or shut off. Now, as it had been from the earliest time, the inevitable dullness was there. Why couldn’t he win and retain the soaring awareness of life, the singing sense of power and cleanliness and rightness in himself, the identity of that self with the etched-crystal world all around? Why did the miracle always die so quickly, to leave nothing but the dullness and the involuntary reflex: eyes to the ceiling, emptily, the liquid sound in the dark?”) Yet the book’s theme is muddy and the novel itself is ill-named. In the movie version, Bruno is obsessed with the Blue Max; his very quest for it reflects the emptiness of himself as a human being (all the more tragic because Bruno himself is ignorant of his own flaws), and his receipt of it sets up the film’s devastating climax. In the book there is no such emphasis and no such graceful symmetry of storytelling. Indeed, the transitions in the book are very bad and the pacing is way off, too – too many characters die too soon, leaving the second half of the book somewhat bereft of people. What’s more, though it is set in a fighter squadron and there is plenty of aerial combat, it is not really a war novel in the conventional sense – it is really about a self-loathing drunkard with decidedly psychopathic tendencies, and unless you revel in the moral chaos of noir, that’s a tough protagonist to swallow.
I should say in closing that while I have mixed feelings about this novel, I did order its sequel, THE BLOOD ORDER, which further chronicles the protagonist’s evolution into a Nazi. Hunter may not be the best storyteller, but sometimes the parts are more interesting than the whole, and the parts of THE BLUE MAX were interesting enough to keep me coming back for more.