They really aren't around anymore, but from the 1930s through the
1970s, there was a proliferation of what became known in the trade
as "adventure" magazines. These ranged in quality from the
semi-respectable (Argosy) to the not so respectable (a
veritable slew of titles, such as Stag and the right-out
front For Men Only). They featured stories of spies, derring
do and jungle intrigue, but they primarily contained war stories.
Lots and lots of war stories. The covers often told the tale
regarding the type of quality you could expect within; this was
particularly true of Stag, which featured damsels who were
either in distress (especially with respect to the state of their
undergarments) or inflicting distress upon U.S. soldiers who were
tied to chairs and doing their best to appear panic-stricken. All
of these magazines, alas, are long gone, or at least don't seem to
have the circulation they used to. I was reminded of them, however,
by the publication of a mammoth volume of war fiction titled
VICTORY is a companion volume to COMBAT, both of which are edited
by intrigue-meister Stephen Coonts. VICTORY is a doorstop of a
volume, weighing in at well over 700 pages and consisting of ten
previously unpublished pieces by masters of the war story. The
stories in VICTORY range in length from fifty to over one hundred
pages; if they had appeared in any of the adventure magazines, they
would have been serialized. Most of the stories in VICTORY would or
could have found a home in Argosy, though one --- "Blood
Bond" by Harold Robbins --- is definitely Stag material.
More on that in a minute.
The stories in VICTORY do not glorify war. Far from it. All of the
stories are set during World War II, with the exception of "Honor"
by Ralph Peters, set immediately thereafter. It is difficult to
pick an immediate favorite; the average reader may have several,
for different reasons. Coonts's own "The Sea Witch," which opens
VICTORY, begins as a fairly predictable tale with an unpredictable
ending and that utilizes an unexpected technique to catch the
"Blood Bond" is typical Robbins. It is a spy story, dealing with a
plot to kill Hitler, and stands apart from the other tales due to
its unrelenting scatological narrative. Robbins writes the way
James Bond really thinks. Though Robbins, gone for several years
now, had his share of detractors, he never inflicted boredom on his
audience, and this previously unpublished work continues his
streak, even in his absence.
David Hagberg's "V5" concerns the German rocket that could have
turned the tide of World War II and the Allied military and
espionage components that feverishly work together, though at some
distance, to ensure that the project never makes it off the
Peters's "Honor" deals not with Americans in the war but with a
German officer in the war's aftermath, trudging through the
nightmarish ruin that is postwar Germany as he tries to return home
to his wife. The conclusion of "Honor" is predictable, almost from
the first paragraph; it is the journey, not the close-to-foregone
destination, that is important here.
The biggest surprise in VICTORY may be "The Eagle and the Cross" by
R.J. Pineiro, a tale of an American pilot who is sent to the
Eastern front to train Russian aviators during the final months of
the Battle of Stalingrad. The bittersweet ending is perhaps the
most haunting of any tale in the book.
With VICTORY Coonts again demonstrates that his talent as a writer
is matched by his editorial abilities. While this volume is aimed
at a more narrowly defined audience, the quality of the stories
involved should, for the most part, satisfy the more discerning
reader of any genre. Recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011