Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pressfield brings history to life in his writing, but fails with "Killing Rommel"

 Whether writing of the Spartans 480 BC defense of Greece at Thermopylae against the Persians (Gates of Fire) or Alexander the Great's challenges during the Afgan War of 330 BC (Afgan Campaign), Steven Pressfield has the ability to bring ancient history to life, allowing his readers to experience the events as if they were shoulder-to-shoulder with the Greek warriors in their phalanx.  Now Pressfield has taken his storytelling skills to the 20th Century, as he relates the account of a special unit -- the Long Range Desert Group -- as they are task with finding and killing Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, during the North African Campaign of World War II in his novel Killing Rommel.  Though it ended in failure, the LRDG made a bold attempt in 1942 to cut the head from the serpent that was the Afrika Korps with the hopes of turning the tide in that theater of war.    This small, highly mobile group of special forces worked extensively behind enemy lines, creating havoc for their German and Italian enemies while living by the unit's motto —Non Vi Sed Arte (Not by Strength, by Guile).

As a fan of the 1960's TV series "Rat Patrol", which was loosely based on the LRDG, and seeing that Pressfield is one of my favorite historical fiction authors, I anxiously dove into reading Killing Rommel.  Page after page, I waited for the pace to quicken and the action to begin only to find myself at the end of the book wanting.  Unlike Gate of Fire, Killing Rommel lacked substance, tantalizing plot, descriptively rich characters, and above all action.