The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War

Neal Bascomb. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-544-93711-6
Bascomb (Hunting Eichmann) unfurls a cracking good adventure in this upbeat retelling of the largest Allied prison break of WWI. By way of introduction, he recounts the backgrounds and the captures—in no-man’s-land between the trenches, at sea, and crashing behind enemy lines—of some of the major characters in the drama, such as pilots David Gray, Cecil Blain, and Caspar Kennard and poetry-minded lieutenant Will Harvey. In 1918 they all ended up at Holzminden, a German POW camp so notorious for punitive brutality that inmates referred to it as Hellminden. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, 29 men tunneled out of the camp on July 23 and 24, 1918, and made their way covertly over 150 miles toward Holland; 10 succeeded, while the others were recaptured. But the relatively posh conditions in which officers were kept, the raffish élan of the breakouts, and Bascomb’s focus on the escapees’ cheer and determination soften the horrors of the Western Front’s savage industrialized slaughter; it’s not until a third of the way through the narrative that the mortal consequences of trying to escape become clear. Bascomb draws on unpublished memoirs, official histories, and family papers to spin this action-packed, briskly paced tale. Agent: Eric Lupfer, Fletcher & Co. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/23/2018
Release date: 09/18/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 385 pages - 978-0-544-93690-4
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-358-11822-0
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