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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Behind the Lines by W.E.B. Griffin


My introduction to W.E.B. Griffin's fiction was a few volumes from the Brotherhood of War series (or so I thought--more on that later). I read The Captains,The Majors, and The Colonels from that series before giving up on it. I wanted to read some war novels, and wasn't sure beyond a reasonable doubt until after reading three installments that Griffin wasn't really trying to write war novels. He is more interested in the back room/office politics of military brass--some of which takes place when the country happens to be at war. Those three books, to me, read like novelized versions of a few seasons' dose of Army Wives--albeit with a FAR greater degree of accuracy in military details.

Behind the Lines was my introduction to his "The Corps" series, my favorite of his military novels, and a pretty good read. WWII is still the period of history that fascinates me most, and American guerrilla action in the Philippines is a subject I haven't read much about, so those were points in the book's favor. But I think what made it a winner for me were the characters. I related to Fertig, McCoy and Weston, and wanted them to prevail.

My complaints about this book are similar to those I have against other Griffin tomes: office politics are interesting up to a point, but he really emphasizes them at the expense of plot and action. The word-for-word (simulated) top-secret memos did become old after about six of them. Characters who jump from enlisted ranks--or even civilian life--into O-3 to O-5 commissions are extremely over-represented, while officers like Macklin are severely under-represented. There were also some plot devices, meant to up the tension probably, that just didn't strike me as worthwhile (all wrapped up in the aforementioned back-room politics). But there was enough good in this book to outweigh all of that.

Griffin may pick details to dwell on that run against my tastes, but his stories are very plausible. His main characters are three-dimensional. Macklin, for instance, probably couldn't have been drawn better. Also, I hadn't experienced Griffin getting into the minds of the opfor before, so it was nice to find that he gave just as much careful attention to depicting characters and office politics on the Japanese side as the American.

All-in-all this was a page-turner; and I cared about what was going to happen to the characters, from beginning to end.

Imagine my surprise when, after googling Griffin, I discovered that he also authored one of my all-time favorite young adult books under a pseudonym. I read that one before ever imagining I would have an interest in the military (much less join it). Stylistically or content-wise I could never have guessed it was the same writer. It shows how versatile this author is.


  1. This was always the problem I had with Clancy. You get 500 pages of political maneuvering and then 15 pages of action at the very end. Also, as you mention with this genre, Officer ranks are way over represented. The idea of a Major or Colonel who is a gunslinger just seems laughable to me. Most officers have more in common with Office Space type corporate managers then with "warriors" or even soldiers.

  2. Yeah. It seems Griffin relates best to officers, and to rich, privileged Ivy League types, judging by the types of protagonists he prefers.

    It is laughable, and I've seen a lot of officer-gunslingers in fiction. It doesn't bother me so much in Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, because Sharpe came up from the ranks; his commission was portrayed in a plausible fashion, and he is just a plain unique individual in many ways. But there is just some ridiculous dreck out there. In an opening chapter of one book, an O-4 was using a sniper rifle from the back of a moving HMMWV to cover for some grunts going house to house. Or something like that. Not all of it is so extremely stupid, but it's stupid enough. I guess some authors don't believe a character is important enough unless he holds an officer rank (Clancy, Griffin, etc.). But some of them are just plain clueless on top of that.

    Some elite units are different, but usually by O-3, officers are mostly transformed into administrative white-collar beancounters in uniform. From there up, it's all paper-shuffling, and they exist in a completely different world than the enlisted man, in the bush or in garrison.

  3. I have read the entire Corps series a few times, President's Agent and the series on OSS. In recent times I have been using Kindle Fire and e-books and have discovered several typing errors (which I do not hold against he author) but there has been some inconsistencies with the charters, in the first appearance of the Australian Officer who is head of the coast-watchers when he and Major Banning first meet, does not speak Japanese and in later books he does. R. Maklin, was Richard, then Robert then Richard again in the series. Having been in the intelligence field in the Marines, there is a lot of stigma that WEB rights about that is true, you become an outcast within the brotherhood. If you are looking for a few good novels of war, I would recommend Body Count and The Mail Man went UA. WEB son now co writes several books with him and I do notice the change of literary style.

    Semper Fi
    Gysgt Richard King (ret)

  4. Thanks for dropping by, Gunny, and for those observations. I've been finding typos and continuity mistakes in a lot of books. I can't be too hard on Griffin though. I have two novels with the same characters and recently discovered one guy inch taller in the sequel. I also confused a femur with a shin bone.


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