At first glance, Robert L. Wises The Secret Road Home seems like a typical World War II novel. Wises story opens with a grizzled veteran recalling his days as a soldier during World War II and then flashes back to a scene inside a B-17 Flying Fortress in September of 1943. But those familiar with any incarnation of Roy Huggins The Fugitive will soon recognize where Wise is drawing his inspiration from.
I want every tree, bush, and building looked in, under, and around until we turn up those two soldiers! growls Agent Arnwolf Mandel. Like Detective Gerard in The Fugitive, Mandel is an emotionless, overzealous hunter with a one-track mind, completely obsessed with the apprehension of one particular fugitive. But Mandel isnt a police officer in pursuit of justice. Hes a psychotic, politically-minded Gestapo agent who enjoys torturing and killing innocent civilians, who is involved in an incestuous affair with his seductive cousin, and who is motivated only by the desire to climb his way to the highest ranks of the Third Reich.
The fugitive who is eluding Arnwolf Mandel is Captain Jack Martin, an American soldier who was aboard a B-17 that was shot down over Belgium. Martin had escaped with a severely burned leg. Now, Martin finds himself stranded and surrounded by the enemy with the only other survivor of the incident, Lt. Hank Holt, Martins loyal friend and navigator, at his side. The two men soon catch up with members of the Comete Line, a secret resistance movement opposed to Nazi occupation.
Wises novel consists mainly of a series of close calls, near captures, and hairpin twists and turns, as Mandel relentlessly pursues the fleeing Americans across Belgium and France, leading to a tense confrontation between the fugitives and their pursuer.
The pages of the novel are filled with a colorful cast of supporting characters, each with an individual agenda and detailed back story. Theres Dirk Vogel, the young Dutch boy who feels Gods calling to join the Comete Line. Theres Rev. Harold Assink, a minister who urges his congregation to aid the resistance. Theres Karl Herrick, Mandels mousy sidekick. Theres Arrabella Kersten, the cousin with whom Arnwolf Mandel is having an incestuous affair. None of the characters are completely original or historically realistic, but they serve the plot well and theyre fairly memorable. While the story dives in and out of each characters perspective, the main emphasis remains on Captain Jack Martin and Agent Arnwolf Mandel. The most vivid of the characters is Arnwolf Mandel, the obsessed Gestapo agent. Hes a stereotypical bad guy, but gleefully so. He is, in my opinion, one of the most odious and memorable villains in recent literature, a character whom readers will love to hate.
The Secret Road Home is not a story for the faint of heart. The book is filled with scenes of brutal violence, severe torture, gruesome surgery, murder, and incest. The descriptions arent overly graphic, but they are fairly detailed and often disturbing. A strong emphasis is placed on Calvinism, and some readers may be offended that the vile Mandel considers himself a good Roman Catholic and that his illicit lover alludes to being a Lutheran. Still, Wise manages to stress a central theme of the importance of prayer without being preachy. Wises prose is often repetitive and leaves much to be desired, but the author does have an aptitude for creating a sharp sense of suspense. Readers who are fans of World War II novels or cat-and-mouse suspense stories should find The Secret Road Home effortless entertainment. Sean M. Cogan, Christian Book Previews.com