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Red Inferno: 1945: A Novel Paperback – February 23, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 104 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

WWII alternate historian Conroy (1945) sets this tale largely in Berlin as it prepares for division among the four Allied powers in accordance with the Yalta agreements. President Truman doesn't trust Stalin and makes the controversial decision to move his troops across the Elbe River toward Berlin in an attempt to lessen Stalin's growing influence in Europe. The move ignites smoldering tensions between Russia and the States, and Stalin's enormous Red Army attacks its former allies, extending the war and threatening the world. An ensemble cast of fictional characters (an American soldier, a German refugee, a professor of Russian history turned secret agent, etc.) and historical figures powers the meticulously researched story line with diverse accounts of the horrors of war, making this an appealing read for fans of history and alternate history alike. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Conroy’s latest novel is substantially his best. It supposes that in 1945, President Truman decided to send American troops across the Elbe to claim the American share of Berlin. That catches Stalin in a paranoiac mood, and the Red Army attacks the force headed to Berlin. Despite a Soviet leak, the Americans are surprised and destroyed, except for a small force besieged in Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. Matters go from bad to worse as Stalin decides to take the opportunity to cross the Elbe and head west. The Western Allies are forced into a separate peace and later an alliance with a semi-rehabilitated Germany but eventually escalate the conflict by striking at Russia’s strained fuel resources. Add the prospective disintegration of the Western Alliance over the prolongation of the war (Britain has a strong and violent peace movement, De Gaulle plays hardball) and J. Edgar Hoover displaying a paranoia that rivals Stalin’s, and every aspect of the scenario becomes engrossing and grimly plausible. Even the book’s two well-realized romances add interest to the proceedings, and the suspense holds up literally to the last page. If Conroy’s enthusiasm for alternate history leads to a sequel to this one, it will continue a story comparable to the best by the subgenre’s masters. --Roland Green

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 353 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345506065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345506061
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By MarkK VINE VOICE on March 2, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is Conroy's fifth alternate history novel, yet in many respects it reads like his third one, 1945: A Novel, given how much he borrows from it. Though the setting is different - with the premise being a clash between Soviet and American forces in Germany at the end of the Second World War in Europe - the elements are all too familiar to anyone who has read Conroy's earlier work. As in the earlier novel, they will encounter green lieutenants, beleaguered but determined generals, men trapped behind the lines cooperating with OSS agents, a duplicitous Soviet Union, and a plucky man from Missouri attempting to address it all. Even the ending is essentially the same, though this is less of a surprise as all of Conroy's novels seem to conclude with an "in-the-end-the-world-was-left-a-better-place" sort of wrapping up.

This is not to say that this is not an enjoyable book, as fans of Conroy's alternate novels will find the author firing on every cylinder that he has within these pages (yet not without historical errors; for example, the G.I. Bill was already in place by the end of 1944 to provide returning vets with loans and college educations). But it seems that with the fifth novel - and his third consecutive one set in World War II - Conroy's creative well is apparently running dry, forcing him to recycle earlier ideas in a slightly refreshed setting. In his "Acknowledgments" section at the end of the book he expresses the hope that this will not be the last alternate history novel he writes; if he does publish another, it will hopefully be after he puts more time into giving readers something new and different, rather than just warming over his earlier work.
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I am a big fan of alternative historical fiction. I also enjoyed Conroy's 1901 book more than this one.

It is an intriguing question that one would assume would get more coverage: what if the Soviet's pushed too hard after the defeat of Germany and went to war with the rest of the Allies? Conroy sets up the conflict fairly well and creates a few interesting characters but also some dull place fillers. The Russians get aggressive and trap an allied force in Germany as their main force pushes the Allies back further and further out of Germany. Much space is devoted to espionage in the West and the resistance the trapped U.S. force puts up behind enemy lines, including their respective love interests. Consideration is given to the Soviet advantage in men and tanks, with the Allies' reliance on air power and giving up space for time to bleed the Soviet advance. All ends in massive fireballs as the first atom bombs are used on the Soviet Army rather than the Japanese.

What I was hoping for more of, however, was how the Soviet and U.S. (and British) armies would face off with each other. Conroy gives little space for a closer look at how the Allies would handle the T-34s. Their advantage over the Sherman is noted, but there is no discussion over how they would match up against British Fireflies or the newer, heavier tanks that the U.S. was already shipping to the European Theater. It also would have been interesting to see how Soviet and U.S. artillery would have matched up against each other. The Soviet's prized their artillery, but the U.S. had boiled it down to a masterful science. And would the Soviet's have truly had such a massive manpower advantage? Conroy depicts the U.S. as having no real reserves to send to fight the Soviets.
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Robert Conroy does a fine job with this very plausible alt history scenario. The characters are all well drawn, and I appreciate that the major historical personalities and their reactions to the scenario receive a great deal of attention from the author. It hands down tops Harry Turtledove's "Hitler's War". The battles, weapons, tactics, and strategic goals are all described in great detail.

I have three criticisms of the book, but they don't affect my overall assessment of the story. First, I came across three references to Germany invading Russia in 1940, vice 1941. I thought that perhaps this was somehow part of the alt history scenario, but after finishing the book I believe that it is indeed an error. Second, when the FBI agent Forbes returned to interview Natalie Holt pursuant to upgrading Col. Burke's security clearance, Barnes, who had been Holt's superior at State and who committed suicide earlier in the story, is suddenly speaking as Forbes. I thought I had misread the dialogue, so I went back to the beginning of this specific encounter between Forbes and Holt, but Barnes is definitely speaking as Forbes. This is a very egregious error, and should've been caught by the proofreader/editor. I recall three instances in this case of Barnes speaking when the author meant Forbes. Lastly, I concur with another reviewer who states that Patton seems a rather minor character here, when the actual history of the immediate aftermath of WWII in the ETO had him warning about Soviet intentions and pushing an aggressive response. He also pushed strongly for rehabilitating former Nazis, which eventually cost him his position as Miltary Governor of Bavaria. I believe that in an actual Red Inferno, George S. Patton would have played a major role.

I have enjoyed reading this book, as well as the earlier "1945" about an alternate ending to the war with Japan. I highly recommend "Red Inferno", and look forward to reading Mr. Conroy's next work.
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