Gerry B's Book Reviews

The Second Ring, by Anthony Kobal

A great adaptation of an historical event, skilfully told.

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the second line - coverStory blurb: Set in war-torn Norway during the German Occupation, Klaus, a young national, finds that he has caught the attention of Axel, a rising Nazi officer in the élite Fallschirmjäger paratroopers. While the battle for territory is rife with bloodshed, the battle for heavy water – crucial for making an atomic bomb – is just as intense. An almost impregnable factory is the target, nestled in the side of a mountain, beneath a plateau. The Enigma machine has been decoding signals that the Norwegians plan on sabotaging it in the deepest winter. As Axel and Klaus’ mutual attraction turns to near obsession, old rivalries threaten to expose the impossible seduction between the two, and the inevitable clash in the fierce ice and snow of battle rises to a harrowing confrontation.

Cover design by Fiona Jayde

Editing by Mary Harris

About the Author: Poet and novelist, Anthony Kobal is the author of many articles in LGBT publications internationally. This is his first novel.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

The Vemork electrolysis building appears here in a photo taken during the plant's inauguration. After descending from the plateau, the attackers crossed the gorge behind where this photographer stood and approached the plant from alongside the turbine hall (upper left).

The Vemork electrolysis building appears here in a photo taken during the plant’s inauguration. After descending from the plateau, the attackers crossed the gorge behind where this photographer stood and approached the plant from alongside the turbine hall (upper left).

Given that next Monday is “Armistice Day,” or “Remembrance Day” as we now call it, The Second Ring, a first novel by Anthony Kobal, [Solferino Press; 1 edition, October 28, 2013] is topical indeed. The story is based in part on the Nazi regime’s failed attempt to build a nuclear bomb during WWII, and the sabotaging of the Vemork heavy water plant near Rjuken, Norway, February 28, 1943.

As a good historical novel should, I think, the author has stuck quite closely to historical facts. For example, he brings to the fore the bitterness felt by the German people with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which imposed heavy penalties on them in retribution for WWI. This, and the burden of rebuilding the country, were two of the factors that led to Hitler’s successful takeover with a promise of an Aryan Nation.

The protagonist in this story is a young German, Axel, who shortly after his introduction becomes the sex slave of a kinky baron. It seems the baron is into BDSM and likes to have a naked lapdog on a leash. Enter a second slave (Bruno, for the purposes of later on), who happens to be Axel’s nemesis from their school days.

Axel seems content being a slave, for, although he is not held hostage, he tolerates the baron’s depraved proclivities until he is literally thrown out. Nonetheless, he picks himself up to become one of the young lions in the Nazi’s crack paratrooper outfit.

The story really begins when Axel’s company is assigned to assist and protect the Vemork Electrolysis Plant, located among the formidable peaks and cliffs of the Hardanger Plateau, from the fierce Norwegian Resistance Movement. Needless to say, given the Nazi’s persecution of homosexuals, Axel is very guarded regarding his true sexual orientation, but fate is fickle, and before long he finds himself in love with Klaus, a Norwegian freedom fighter.

Then, in another fatalistic twist, Bruno show up in a senior command position, and promptly abducts Klaus for himself.

Being a historical fact, the fate of the Vemork heavy water is known—a fascinating story in its own right:

Surrounding their boss Leif Tronstad (front row, center) are most of the Vemork saboteurs, including (front row left to right) Jens Anton Poulsson and Joachim Ronneberg, and (back row left to right) Hans Storhaug, Fredrik Kayser, Kasper Idland, Claus Helberg, and Birger Stromsheim.

Surrounding their boss Leif Tronstad (front row, center) are most of the Vemork saboteurs, including (front row left to right) Jens Anton Poulsson and Joachim Ronneberg, and (back row left to right) Hans Storhaug, Fredrik Kayser, Kasper Idland, Claus Helberg, and Birger Stromsheim.

Conscious that every minute was now crucial, Ronneberg and Kayser climbed a short ladder and crawled as silently as possible down the shaft on their hands and knees over a mass of wires and pipes, pushing their sacks of explosives ahead of them as they went. Through an opening in the ceiling they could see the target beneath them. At the end of the tunnel the pair quickly slid down a ladder into an outer room before rushing the night watchman inside the high-concentration area.

“They immediately locked the doors and Kayser held his gun to the night watchman, who was quivering uncontrollably. Ronneberg had laid about half of the 18 charges when he heard a shattering of glass, and he spun around to see Sergeant Birger Stromsheim climbing in through a window from the back of the plant. Kayser also swung around and prepared to load his gun before he realized they were in good company.

Just before they lit the fuses, the guard said, “Please, I need my glasses. They are impossible to get in Norway these days.” It was a surreal moment and the request stopped the three raiders in their tracks, bewildered by this change to the script, this brief snapshot of civilian anxiety at the critical point of a crucial military operation. There followed a few curious moments as the saboteurs politely rummaged around his desk for his glasses. “Takk” (thank you) said the smiling guard as he put the spectacles on his nose. As he spoke, the four of them heard the sound of footsteps approaching. Was this one of the German guards making his rounds? To their relief, a Norwegian civilian walked into the room and almost fell backwards as he saw what appeared to be three British commandos and his colleague with his hands above his head.

The Vemork heavy water plant after the allies' sabotage.

The Vemork heavy water plant after the allies’ sabotage.

The four members of the demolition party immediately took cover, waiting for a reaction from the German barracks hut. They lay or stood stock-still as the door of the hut swung open and a soldier appeared, only half dressed, flashing a torch around the factory yard. He walked slowly in the direction of Haukelid, who was hiding behind some empty drum caskets.

When he was five yards away he stopped and swept the beam of the torch no more than a few inches above the Norwegian’s head. Had it been a windless night, he might have been able to hear his heavy breathing, if not the rapid hammering of his heart. At that exact moment, three tommy guns and four pistols were pointing straight at the back of the unsuspecting German. A couple of inches lower with his torch and he would have been riddled with several dozen bursts of Allied firepower. But he turned on his heel and walked slowly back to the hut, and as the door shut the order for withdrawal was given. ~ Nova – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/hydro/resistance.html

Regarding the fictional characters, I will leave the ending for the readers to discover for themselves. I will say this, however; it is somewhat unexpected (although not entirely), but fortunately not self-indulgent.

A good read. Congratulations, Anthony Kobal, on your first novel. Four bees.

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Authors in Depth

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November 4, 2013 Posted by | a love story, Fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay military, Gay romance, Historical period | 1 Comment

   

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