cover image Loyalties: A Novel of World War II

Loyalties: A Novel of World War II

Thomas Fleming. HarperCollins Publishers, $24 (574pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017709-6

Elaborately plotted and meticulously researched, this sprawling saga of World War II offers some new political insights but ultimately succumbs to a combination of melodramatic prose, flat characters and abundant cliches. Bestselling author Fleming ( Time and Tide , etc.) builds his story around the fate of two military couples, one American and one German. Jonathan ``Zeke'' Talbot is a straight-shooting Navy captain who meets his U-boat counterpart, Ernst von Hoffman, after being captured in the North Atlantic shortly before the U.S. declares war on Germany. Released by his rival, Talbot winds up in Spain on an espionage mission, where he promptly beds Hoffman's wife, Berthe, a member of the German resistance movement. Talbot's wife, Annie, responds to this infidelity by going to work for her brother, a powerful Washington journalist. The convergent plots funnel the two couples toward a final climax in Berlin that focuses on Talbot's efforts to end the war early by helping to assassinate Hitler and convince Roosevelt to abandon his ``unconditional surrender'' policy. Fleming's history may be credible, but the far-fetched drama he hangs on it, as well as a surfeit of mawkish sentimentality, make for a sluggish read, and only the period detail and cogent exploration of policy issues keep the story from going off the rails. (June)