To the Devil His Due by Paul Bernardi
Amazon UK £7.98 £3.64
Amazon US $4.66 $12.50
Amazon CA $16.48
Reading To the Devil His Due, by Paul Bernardi, was like going back in time to books I used to enjoy some years ago, and it was fun to be reminded of that. The story is set in the Second World War, and uses many of the appropriate tropes. Senior British officers are formal and reserved, but highly talented and dedicated to carrying the conflict to the enemy. Their juniors are keen, if rough and ragged round the edges. Schemes and plans are daring, but risky, calling for considerable personal valour.
The plot of the book, indeed, bears some loose similarity to Where Eagles Dare. It follows the exploits of a small elite team carrying out commando style raids deep into Nazi Germany territory. There are night parachute drops into the target zone, frequent guard patrols, a handy tavern in sight of key locations, and a secretive approach to the target.
However, it is not at all a clone of that book, but focuses the reader's attention on rather different issues. For one thing, the build-up of the team training and early missions is told in much more detail, giving a sense of the demands made of people in this branch of military service. For another, we learn far more of the central character's back-story and motivation for the fight. And finally, the considerable wartime role of European nationals displaced by Nazi occupation is in the foreground, rather than presenting a purely English and American response.
The book had been well prepared and presented, though there were a few places where descriptions of places or people were repeated in close proximity. Another editing sweep would have caught these. Without wanting to give the plot away, the biggest mental leap was when the perspective suddenly changes away from the person we have followed throughout. This happens near to the end of the book, and the reader is not given any opportunity to adjust to the change.
The story - quite deliberately - ends with a question, which for me worked well. In passing, and alongside the overt plot development, a number of moral and pragmatic questions are raised concerning how war is waged. Paul has no intention of solving these, but prefers leaving them for the reader to ponder.
All in all, an interesting twist on the typical book of this kind. To the Devil His Due is narrow in focus, and sees the bigger issues of war through the conflicted eyes of a single man. Given that, it is an interesting and thoughtful addition to Second World War fiction.
© Richard Abbott