This novel follows the experiences of Rick Fontain, an American draftee of the late 1960s, who spends most of his military career serving on the East-West German border, in and around the Fulda Gap, where any Soviet land invasion of the west was expected to begin.
This is a somewhat odd piece of work. In many ways it reads more like an autobiography than a novel, both in the tone of the first person segments (which make up most of the novel), and in the extensive use of footnotes. I'm used to novels where the footnotes are jokey asides or part of the story, but here they are generally historical notes, brief biographies of some of the figures, explanations of Army terminology, equipment and organisation, and some slightly unnecessary explanations of other terms (traffic calming measures being one example).
The resemblance to an autobiography comes through in several ways. The fictional lead character served in the same division as the author, and both go on to work at Bell. The characters are a mix of the real and the fictional, with no real guide as to where the lines blur. As with most memoirs, our lead character isn’t at the centre of major events, but does take a leading role in a number of operations. The text is split up by countless sub-headings, marking most chances of scene. Finally there isn’t really a clear overarching plot - instead we follow our hero as he takes part in a series of loosely related operations within the wider context of the Cold War.
That isn't to say that this isn't an entertaining read. The view of life in the US Army in Europe in the 1960s is entertaining, and the background Cold War plot is nicely done. Having our hero on the edge of this wider campaign is more realistic than having him plunge right into the heart of things, although he does rise rather quickly. There isn't a great deal of tension in the main plot, but the individual incidents are well drawn, and this feels like a realistic view of life in the US Army in Europe in the 1960s.
1 - Things are Seldom What They Seem
2 - The Beginning - Zero Hour
3 - Zero Week - Plus Eight Hours
4 - The Advancement
5 - The Color of Red
6 - The Loneliest Number
7 - Usareur - United States Army, Europe
8 - Permanent Change
9 - The Mission
10 - Operation Sparrow Signature
11 - Photo Op - Rhein-Main Air Base
12 - Junkyard Friendship
13 - Aim of the Sparrow
14 - Onwards and Upwards
15 - The Russians are Coming
16 - Cold War 2.0 'Lines in the Sand'
17 - Operation Sparrow Hawk 'The Pied Piper Effect'
18 - A Whisper in the Clear
19 - The Last Hoorah
20 - A Fond Farewell
Author: Bill Fortin
Publisher: Cold War