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V2 BY ROBERT HARRIS

We have gathered all the fantastic reviews our Book Club Members have sent us this month.

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REVIEWS

Janet Harris

I have to say that this book was not to my taste but that’s not to say that it’s not well written. I felt that the storyline was quite weak but the research was excellent. If you like books about war then I could certainly recommend it. Although it’s not my kind of book, my husband however enjoyed it very much!

Lesley Hall

Beneath the stylish, serious looking cover lies a fairly light, easily readable historical fiction centred around two people experiencing the last stages of the 2nd World war from opposite sides. One a rocket scientist who dreamed of space exploration, but who found himself a key protagonist in the V2 rocket programme – one of Hitler’s attempts to defeat Britain and win the war; the other a WAAF involved with interpreting aerial photographs to identify Nazi war activity and find rocket production and launch sites. The story explores their personal experiences and relationships, both with their contemporaries and with the V2, while providing evocative descriptions of the rocket preparation and launching procedures, and its effects in London. For the latter I wish I could have been able to ask my mother, who lived in East London through this period. The novel British approach to outwit the Germans provided a background to the final betrayals, and raised questions about the futility of war and the lies told as motivation. The romantic interludes stray into the 'chick-lit' genre, which I found irritating, but overall I enjoyed the book and found it interesting.

Catriona Hunter

This exciting book really conveys the sheer terror of the V2 rockets that threatened Londoners in the final few months of World War Two. These ballistic missiles travelled three times faster than the speed of sound and gave no warning before the almighty explosion on impact. The action takes place over five days in November 1944 telling simultaneously of the V2 rockets launching from the Dutch coast and the subsequent destruction caused in London. Using air reconnaissance photographs and a slide rule, WAAF Officer Kay Caton-Walsh, has the unenviable job of trying to locate the rocket launch pads. Before her transfer to newly liberated Belgium, she experiences a V2 hit for herself while with her lover in London. Meanwhile, working for the German army under the watchful eyes of the SS, is the disillusioned engineer Dr Rudi Graf. He always wanted to build a rocket to the moon but instead has found himself designing hugely destructive rockets, with a high failure rate, for a war he no longer believes in. This is an excellent book, based on fact, that grabbed me from the first page and had some excellent plot twists at the end. Do read it!

Shelagh Payne

A lovely surprise, a parcel from Viking with a book inside, my first reaction was, not one l would have chosen but let's give it a bash. And from when l first started to read it, l just could not put it down and read it in super quick time. The clue to what it is about is in the title V2 and although l was born after WW2, l am well aware of what they were and the death and destruction they brought to England . There are two main characters in the story, which is a mixture of fact and fiction, and we learn how each one is involved with the V2 rockets. The main plot takes place in Sept., '44 in Holland and England, with each chapter alternating between the two countries and main characters. It starts with Dr Graf and his long involvement with Rocket Science, also his long time friend and fellow scientist Prof Von Braun, how as young teenagers they had plans for Rockets to go into Space. Graf gradually tells us his story, past and present and also his feelings as the SS gradually take control of the Rocket Programme and the rockets become missiles of death and destruction. The second character is Kay Caton-Walsh, a young English WAAF Officer working as a Photographic Reconnaissance Interpreter and the part she plays in trying to track down the missile sites and then eventually going to Belgium to help track the launch sites and allow the RAF to bomb them. It takes some twists and turns with excitement and romance involved, also l found it very interesting and extremely informative and learnt some very interesting facts about WW2.

Helen Freeborn

Robert Harris writes extremely good historical fiction. His work doesn't have the linguistic deftness of Hilary Mantel - but he also understands that sometimes, less is more. I knew of his work principally from his Cicero and Pompeii novels which appeal to me mostly because of my deep interest, as a classicist, in that period. When this one plopped through my letterbox, based on the V2 rockets that Hitler built and showered upon London as his last gasp to try and win a war he knew was already lost, my first thought was that it probably wasn't my cup of tea. Reader, I devoured it in very short order. It's well written, if not as good as his other historical work and the two opposing characters - Rudi Graf, a (fictional) engineer on the V2 rockets and Kat Caton-Walsh (also fictional), a WAAF officer deployed to Belgium to attempt to locate the rockets' launch sites - provide an excellent insight into the two perspectives on these terrifying weapons; the description of how the WAAF officers had to complete calculations using slide rules in a very limited amount of time was fascinating. Of the two, it surprised me that Graf is perhaps the most rounded character and Harris manages the singular feat of making the reader feel sympathy for the man. Caton-Walsh is one of those slightly stereotypical, hugely intelligent women who were drafted into the forces to support military intelligence - it's her character that suffers most, I think, from Harris having written this novel at a bit of a dash during the first Covid lockdown. That she is introduced to us at the beginning whilst engaged in an affair with a married man annoyed me - it's almost as if it was the only way Harris thought he could make her interesting! Harris manages to give something of a glimpse into the terror of the V2 rockets for Londoners and the early impact and trail of destruction caused by one of these bombs is well described. Shortly after completing this novel, I read Lissa Evans' 'V for victory' and I recommend going on to read it as it complements and provides further insights into the experience for London residents besieged by the V2 rockets.

Margaret Lishman

I was delighted when this book arrived for me to review. I have enjoyed Robert Harris’s books before and this one was no exception. As with some of his other books eg ‘An Officer and a Spy ‘ this book was written from the perspectives of two individuals. Doctor Rudi Graff, an engineer, is in a seaside town in Holland is tasked with firing V2 bombs at London for the Nazis. Kay Caton- Walsh has joined the WAAF straight from university. At the beginning of the novel she is caught in a V2 blast in central London . She is working in a unit interpreting aerial photographs of enemy sites but then goes on a mission in Belgium to try and locate the launch sites of the V2s using mathematical calculations based on the trajectory of the bombs and their impact sites. Both characters have complex and detailed back stories which shape the decisions they make throughout the tale which takes place over five days at the end of November 1944. Harris provides lots of technical detail about the V2 bombs and on the terrible cost of their development and production. Over twenty thousand slave labourers died building the V2 and in London two thousand seven hundred people died with six thousand five hundred injured as a result of the bombing. In Antwerp one thousand seven hundred died and four thousand five hundred were injured. He is good at creating atmosphere within the Nazi camp rushing to launch the V2s despite faults with the bombs. He also highlights the consequences of failure to succeed in the third Reich. In contrast Kay faces a different set of problems resulting from her affair with a high ranking officer. Her trip to Belgium is as much a result of that as a desire to help the war effort Doctor Kraft and she meet in London at the end of the book and both realise that what their respective sides told them during the war about their forces successes were untrue! An enjoyable and thought provoking book written during the first pandemic lockdown in the UK.

Nigel Meredith

The technical detail in this book is fascinating and the author has thoroughly researched the V2 archives of both the allies and the German command. I had read quite a bit about the V2 rockets but there were new details I had not known before. The links to the US space programme are well documented but you understand Von Braun better. I found the German characters plausible and well written. The relationship between Von Braun and Graf is very good with the idea that the V2 was a means to an end, space flight both disturbing and forward thinking. However the WAAF side seemed a bit flat to me. Maybe I was expecting more action on the WAAF side but I did not feel for Kay and her colleagues as much. Overall this is an enjoyable book with good research.

Margaret Gaunt

This novel shows both sides of the development and firing of the V2 rockets which devastated parts of London and the South East of England in the latter stages of World War Two. Graf is one of the German engineers who designed and supported the firing of these rockets but quickly became disillusioned with the Nazi cause. Kay experiences the effect of one of these rockets when it hits the building in London where she is staying and injures her boyfriend. Later she manages to get a place on the WAAF team sent to Belgium to locate and intercept the rockets before they reach Britain. These two fictional characters bring to life the German effort to turn the tide towards the end of the war. Robert Harris writes a thriller alternating the story of these two to produce a book which is gripping and comes to a satisfying conclusion. To be recommended.

Rita Crowe

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. The book caught my attention from the first page. It is well written and easy to read with vivid characters who bring the story to life and make the facts weaved into the story easier to absorb. Full of twists and turns and interesting to see the two viewpoints, those involved in the V2 rocket programme and the people trying to stop them, come together in the climax of the story. A good way to educate people about what happened by weaving facts into fiction where a simple factual book would not appeal. Excellent read.

Steve Ellis

V2 provides a unique insight into one of the lesser known closing chapters of World War 2 , together with an absorbing story centred around two opposing characters, namely Kay Caton-Walsh, a Cambridge graduate who uses her academic skills to try and locate the V2 rocket sites, and Rudi Graf the German engineer who has spent his lifetime developing the complex technology needed to create the first ever ballistic rocket. The idea for the story came about because the author spotted an obituary describing the life of a former WW2 female officer (Eileen Younghusband) which gave an insight into the little-known V2 tracking operations. I personally found the subject matter covered in the book extremely interesting, whilst also getting fully engaged into the intertwined story being told about Kay and Rudi wartime exploits. It is a real skill to be able to write about a complex historical period in a way that is nonetheless highly accessible to the reader. I must admit that this is the first Robert Harris book I have ever read, so thank you to the Viking Book Club as it most certainly will not be the last!

Rosemary Pile

This novel is set towards the end of the 2nd World War and whilst it is a fictional story it is based on real events that took place then. I really like the way the author draws his readers into the events, places and characters he describes as he switches seamlessly from London to Occupied Holland and back again throughout the whole book. The tension builds as the story unfolds and the inevitability of the ending becomes more and more apparent although there is an unexpected and thought provoking twist at the very end. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book - it is a real “page turner” and I look forward to reading more by this author.

Richard Guy

Robert Harris returns to the Second World War with the story of the V2 rockets commissioned to hit London in five minutes. The main protagonists are Dr. Rudi Graf, a German scientist and Kay Caton-Walsh, a WAAF officer. Moral compromises and disillusion are recurring themes of the novel. The tunnel blasted out under a mountain by slave labour becomes a metaphor of the moral tunnel that Graf and his superior, Von Braun, are drawn down by this Faustian pact. Kay, a courageous and likeable character, experiences casual sexism. In photo reconnaissance she locates the manufacturing site for bombing. She volunteers to travel to Belgium to pinpoint, by parabolic curves from the impact point, the mobile launch sites. Possible imminent death foretells post war emancipation, sexual liberation and greater involvement of women as they work and party hard. V2 is a study in futility and disillusion because the calculations aren’t accurate enough and one ton warheads can’t finish the war. The ballistic attack which Kay experiences in London is a horrifying foretaste of modern warfare and a disturbing conundrum that space exploration wouldn’t have been possible without the Nazi rocket programme and Von Braun who became a poster boy for NASA.

Sue Newell

I have read and enjoyed several of Robert Harris’s books. V2 arrived out of the blue so I read it. Ordinarily I might have been put off by the title, intuiting correctly that there would be a lot of technical detail about rockets, as Robert Harris’ research is always meticulous. Nevertheless I did enjoy the book. The plot, which was based on real events, moved along at a reasonable pace without too many flashbacks or digressions. I was less convinced by the characterisation which was very lightly sketched in some cases - except for the most interesting character, Wernher von Braun. After I had come across the song about him written by the late lamented Tom Lehrer I couldn’t help wondering if the author hadn’t taken some inspiration from that. Von Braun is depicted as a chameleon-like man, very charming and prepared to do whatever it takes to get the funding for his pet project. After the War he has no difficulty in leading the American team in the Space Race against the Soviets - one team of German engineers against another.

Beverley McWilliam

Set largely in 1944 with a few flashbacks, it tracks the development and deployment of the V2 missiles. The chapters alternate between Graf, the German engineer who has worked on the rockets and is now launching them and Kay, an English officer in military intelligence who is trying to stop them. I liked the alternating chapters and I was engaged by both characters, marginally I found Kay more engaging but that could be because I have little interest in the science behind the V2. The characters felt like real people caught up in a war situation and it made me think about my relatives who had been living in London at this time. I hadn’t expected to enjoy this book because of the subject matter but I really did and raced through it. The story was good, there were no slow parts and it added to my knowledge of V2.

Brenda Mills

The author tells us this novel was written at speed during the first Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, and the action moves at a very quick pace and is certainly a page turner. The story is based on the factual event of the development and launching of the V2 rockets over London by the Germans in 1944 and the fictional lives of those both affected by, and involved in, the development and prevention of this last desperate attempt by Germany to win the war. Some detailed statistics are necessarily involved and some unpleasant reports of wartime atrocities, but this is counteracted by the lighter side of WW2 namely wartime affairs and friendships. Alternate chapters move between the launch site on the Dutch coast where we meet Dr Rudi Graf, one of the men responsible for the development and launching of the rockets - and a town in Belgium where WAAF Officer, Kay Caton-Walsh, is part of a team endeavouring to use mathematics to track back to the launch site from the point of impact. The brief glimpses we get into the lives of both these characters make a very exciting and readable book.