Gordon Zuckerman,
The Sentinels: Fortunes of War
(Greenleaf, 2009)

If you have kept up with any of my book reviews over the years, then you might know that I enjoy a good World War II novel. While I am most certainly glad that I was not alive at the time, I find this period fascinating in that you can clearly see both the worst as well as the best humanity had to offer. This was a time period that truly tested one's mettle. This was a time of great heroes and terrible villains. And if you like a little action in your entertainment, war certainly offers plenty of it.

Thus, as an armchair war buff, I had high hopes when I picked up Gordon Zuckerman's The Sentinels: Fortunes of War. From the promotional material I could see that this book would be approaching the war more from a financial perspective vs. an ideological one. The book opens in 1932 with a group of highly influential and extremely wealthy German businessmen who believe that supporting Hitler's rise to power will gain them more control in the government, which will naturally lead to more wealth for them. Money buys power. Power acquires money.

By the late 1930s, a group of students at the University of California in Berkley are working on their doctoral thesis that posits the idea that empires rise and fall around something they call "The Power Cycle." The seven steps of this process have been shown to repeat throughout history. Based on their research, these six students believe Germany will soon plunge the world into another war. These students hail from banking and business families from countries around the globe including China, Italy, England, France, Switzerland and the United States.

The main two personas from this group include the French Jacques Roth and Swiss Claudine Demaureux, whose families are both in banking. When the war is at its zenith and the German businessmen can see the writing on the wall, they decide it is in their best interest to get their wealth out of the country while they can. Their connections lead them to the Sentinels, who cleverly determine a way to tie up their money such that they can't use it for evil purposes again in the future. Here is where the novel turns more in to a series of chase scenes with the war as a backdrop as the bad guys come after the good ones to retrieve what is theirs. If you want to find out what happens to the money (which is quite ingenious), you will have to read the book as I won't be leaving a spoiler here.

This book is author Zuckerman's first published novel. Although retired, Gordon had a long career spanning four decades that gave him some of the financial background that helped him write the book. For 10 of those years he worked on Wall Street. For 30, he owned a real-estate development company. Gordon is the founder of Resort Suites. He is currently the director of the Brubeck Institute. Gordon and his wife are spending their retirement years on a ranch in Nevada.

The Sentinels: Fortunes of War is a decent first novel. I enjoyed the writing style as Gordon is adept at both action sequences as well as dialogue. My favorite bit of action is a hair-raising chase scene through the Alps. Gordon's love scenes might be a little lacking, but this is a book primarily about money and war, not romance.

I was left a little disappointed in the uneven character development. There are six main characters, yet I only cared about a few of them by the end of the story. As a war novel, this book was only OK. As a financial thriller, it did a little better. The marketing on the book leads me to believe there might be more to come with The Sentinels. While I would most likely read another book with these characters if it was released, I would not necessarily run out to grab it.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Wil Owen

23 January 2010

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