cover image LAST CITADEL


David L. Robbins, . . Bantam, $24.95 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-553-80177-4

Tigers and T-34s lock horns in this dramatization of the 1943 battle for Kursk, in southwestern Russia, the greatest tank battle in the history of armored warfare. In his fifth novel, Robbins (War of the Rats; The End of War) explores the maelstrom from the perspective of a rich ensemble cast. The Berkos are a family divided by politics: Dimitri Berko, the patriarch, is an old-school Cossack driving a T-34 under the command of his estranged son, Valentin, a fervent Communist; daughter Katya is a Night Witch bomber pilot. The Berkos square off against Luis de Vega, a Spanish captain fresh from Franco's Blue Division, now in an SS tank brigade commanding the dreaded new Mark VI Tiger, a behemoth so heavily armored it is considered impervious to Russian guns. Caught in the middle of this is Abram Breit, a Nazi intelligence officer secretly funneling information to the Soviets. Separate plane crashes land Katya and Breit in the hands of the same Russian partisan band; meanwhile, Dimitri and Valentin are locked in suicidal combat with de Vega's SS tanks and troops. Robbins's writing might be tighter, but he livens his tale with striking incongruities: the final battle for Kursk takes place in a field of sunflowers. Serious WWII buffs may quibble with some of Robbins's portrayals of battles, hardware and key figures. But the real story here is the duel between de Vega and Berko, both of whom are torn from their natural environments (de Vega from his bullfighting, Berko from his horses) by the war and made to serve ideologies that will destroy the ways of life they left behind. Agents, Owen Laster and Tracy Fisher.U.K. rights to Orion; Dutch rights to De Boekerij. (Sept. 2)