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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Operation Napoleon


Veteran thriller-readers know that a “suspension of disbelief” is often part of the game.  Without a willingness on the reader’s part to cut the author a little slack, the plots of many (if not most) thrillers would fall apart very quickly.  Sometimes, however, an author’s plot narrative will stretch the willingness of his readers to suspend their disbelief beyond the breaking point.  That, unfortunately, is the case with Arnaldur Indridason’s Operation Napoleon.

This recently translated 1999 novel was written relatively early in Indridason’s career and it is still the only standalone novel he has produced.  The author is known for his well received Inspector Erlunder series and this book, in fact, appears to have been written between the second and third books in that series (there are now eight Erlunder books, although only the last six have been translated to English). 

Operation Napoleon begins in 1945 just after a military plane has crashed onto an isolated Icelandic glacier.  Despite horrendous weather conditions and the isolation of the crash site, the area is soon swarming with dozens of American soldiers in search of the wreckage.  Two bachelor brothers who live at the base of the glacier, one of whom saw the plane as it passed low over their farm, unhesitatingly become guides for the soldiers.  But, despite the hard work of the American military and the efforts of the brothers to point them in the right direction, the rescue mission ends in failure.  Only a tiny portion of the plane, with German markings on it, can be found. 

Flash forward to 1999 and the resumption of the search.  Certain people deep within the American military and its government desperately want to find the airplane that crashed in 1945 before anyone else spots it.  Modern satellite technology now makes it possible to monitor from afar any changes to the surface of the glacier that swallowed the airplane and, because glaciers are known to cough up lost objects every so often, these men hope to spot the lost aircraft that way.  That is exactly what happens.

Unfortunately for Kristen, a young Icelandic public servant, her brother and his friend happen upon the wreckage not long after the American searchers have finally gotten their hands on it.  At the exact moment that soldiers spot the two young men, Kristen is on the phone with her brother who barely manages to describe what he sees before a group of armed soldiers surround the two young men.  Sensing that something is very wrong, and unable to reconnect with her brother, Kristen begins a quest to find the truth – and her brother – before it is too late.

 Thus begins a wild ride during which this young female civil servant outwits, outruns, and outthinks the villains chasing her (keep in mind that these are super-villains of the exaggerated James Bond school of villains, no less) - not to mention her thwarting of their efforts to kill her and anyone to whom she might have inadvertently leaked her suspicions.  In other words, Kristen somehow becomes superwoman, even though she does manage to get a few innocent people whacked along the way.  The sheer unlikelihood of Kristen’s numerous escapes from certain death, combined with a weak surprise ending and the book’s obvious tinge of anti-Americanism, makes this one I wish I had avoided.

Rated at: 2.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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