Book Review: Balls of Leather and Steel and A Gordian Web by Guy Butler

Two things drew me to this series: 1) the author shares the same name as my husband and 2) it’s WWII themed.

Here is the synopsis:

Balls of Leather and Steel

This is a story with BALLS! The leather and steel kind. 

balls Since the day he was born, Malcolm McClain has led a charmed life. By his mid-twenties he was a household name throughout Europe, recognized as one of the finest professional soccer players on the planet. At the start of World War II, Malky joins the Royal Air Force to great fanfare – a national treasure doing his part. Then he’s shot down over Yugoslavia and captured by the Nazis. 

Adolf Hitler now plans a scurrilous propaganda campaign to demoralize the British by claiming McClain has betrayed them by becoming a Nazi. 

Chez Orlowski is an unwanted orphan in Poland after first his mother, then his father dies. As a teenager, he’s protecting his sister from his abusive stepmother when he finds himself arrested and thrown into a Nazi hard labor camp. After dodging death every day, he finally escapes with only one goal in mind: to cause mayhem as a Polish freedom fighter. Chez is clever, relentless and utterly fearless in his crusade to wreak havoc and terrorize the Nazis occupying his country. He becomes a hero to the Polish people, who call him The Spider. 

When the Yugoslavian Partizani get wind of Hitler’s plans for Malcolm McClain, they vow to wreck them. Their best option involves persuading The Spider to use his special talents to extract McClain from Stalag 306 and whisk him back to safety. 

But the story does not end there…..

And for A Gordian Web:  

gordianWhen Germany invades Poland in 1939, the Nazi regime tosses dissidents into labor camps to break the will of the 
people. Every day Czeslaw Orlowski, an orphaned teenager, fights for his life in the camps then escapes to become a thorn in the side of the oppressors. By the time the Nazis retreat to Berlin, the young Pole has instilled hope in his countrymen through the exploits of the legend known as The Spider. 

With the pending Allied victory in Europe, Poland becomes a pawn played by the Soviet Union against the West. At the top of the NKGB’s agenda: find and crush The Spider. Hiding in plain sight on a farm in Western Silesia, for Czeslaw, his new bride and family it’s only a matter of time before the Russians close the noose around them. 

The Spider has only one hope—to ask the British for help. In response, a covert Special Forces Squad—The Black Widows—is launched in a clandestine extraction attempt behind Russian lines. 

In return, Czeslaw will be asked to contribute his special talents to a personal mission for Winston Churchill. 

The Spider then confronts a Gordian knot: must he keep his promise to the Prime Minister by slicing that knot—or cut the throat of his arch nemesis?

Both books captivated me.  I loved the characters, the action, the audacity of the author to plant the seed in the mind of his readers that WWII history might not be what it has been portrayed.

The first book started out a little slow, it took awhile for me to get into it, but it picks up speed around the time WWII breaks out.

I will caution those students of WWII, read this book with the suspension of reality.  The historian part of me wants to find any true accounts of these characters, but after I did find the author’s father on wikipedia, I decided to just read it with an open mind.

I truly, truly, truly enjoyed the story.  Mainly because I love all the WWII espionage, secret mission type of books and because this book is clearly written with love.  The author’s admiration for these characters is palpable.

In the second book, there are some grammatical/spelling/formatting errors, and at times the actual “plot” that Chez overhears toward the end of the book isn’t exactly clear, at least in my mind, but the aftermath is crystal clear.

Also the German/Russian/Polish interspersed throughout the book is a little confusing.  I think the author tries to provide a translation in English in the same sentence, but at times it is confusing.  I don’t know if this is because I, like most Americans, only speak English.  I had the same difficulty reading a similar book, It Never Was You by William E. Thomas, that employs German and a very vibrant portrayal of a Liverpudlian accent (scuse?).

One thing the second book does very well is to portray the difficulty faced by the Polish people toward the end of WWII.  They had suffered tremendously under the Nazis.  But after they are finally rid of the Nazis, Stalin and his boys come to town and set up shop.

Prior to reading this account, I have never truly given much thought to the Eastern Front.  I have read about Stalingrad, but in terms of these types of character driven accounts, I have been ignorant.  Mr. Butler clearly portrays the absolute horror felt by those who survived the Nazi occupation, only to suffer under another, more brutal master.

As a result, I am now reading “The Fall of Berlin 1945” by Antony Beevor.  I love it when books make me think about something I haven’t considered much before.

I also love the romance story featuring the main characters and their eventual wives.

Overall a great read.  Recommended to anyone who likes this part in 2oth century history, who likes adventure and espionage.  Very well done.

 

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