Steven Pressfield,
Killing Rommel
(Doubleday, 2008)

Killing Rommel is a new novel by Steven Pressfield. This author has a knack for writing historical novels -- Gates of Fire and Tides of War being two examples. Pressfield is adept at mixing fictional characters in with authentic persons and events of the time.

It is very easy to forget you are reading a made-up story when you pick up a book like Killing Rommel. It reads like an exciting biography.

If you know anything about the history of World War II, then you know the Allies never succeeded in killing Nazi General Erwin Rommel. That task was accomplished by the Nazi's themselves. So when I first heard the title, I thought the book was going to focus on German characters. But that isn't the case. The main character of this novel is a young British lieutenant named Richmond Lawrence Chapman. The story takes the reader from 1942 to early 1943 while Chapman is in North Africa fighting against Rommel's forces. He spends the bulk of his time in small, lightly armored, self-supporting mobilized units known as the Long Range Desert Group.

The missions of the LRDG included scouting behind enemy lines, disrupting supply routes and destroying enemy armament and planes on the ground by hitting hard and fast then retreating before the Axis knew what hit them. They had a special mission to take out Rommel if they happened to find him. You think about these groups having to carry every single supply item they would need, from fuel to water to repair parts and ammunition, and then you think about the harsh terrain they traversed going into parts of the desert where camels feared to tread, and you simply cannot be without awe for them.

While Chapman and his T3 patrol are fictional entities, they are surrounded in Killing Rommel by historically accurate patrols and persons whose actions documented in the novel actually occurred. The detail in the book is very encompassing and at times rather graphic. That's the way it should be in a book about war. Chapman and his group escape several predicaments that will keep you on the edge of your seat. And while I don't want to give too much away, I will drop one tidbit -- the group does run into Rommel. While you already know they do not manage to kill (arguably) Germany's greatest general, it is certainly an exciting chapter in the saga.

Pressfield was born in 1943. Growing up as a Navy brat, he is familiar with life in the military. Considering he was also a Marine, I would contend he is well versed in military life. In short, he has a background to write novels from the warrior's perspective. The fact that he uses his skills to entertain readers while also subtly teaching them a little bit of history is an added bonus. And just so you will know, he has also written nonfiction: The War of Art.

Killing Rommel is an excellent book. I had a hard time putting it down. I found myself getting up at 4:30 in the morning to get in some reading before going to work. He liberally sprinkles his novels with facts and characters from the time, which brings the story even more to life. The writing style of the book is a little dated as well which also gives it a more authentic feel as if it were written by Chapman as he was experiencing the events that are told and writing in the vernacular of the 1940s.

If you are a war buff, specifically of WWII, then you should definitely put this book on your list. While I was reading Killing Rommel, this book made me think of Pressfield's The Legend of Bagger Vance in that this one, too, is just begging to be made in to a movie.

review by
Wil Owen

20 December 2008

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