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Kommando 55

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New English Library, London, 1980
(price: 1.25; 224 pages)

The blurb on the back:

Somewhere in East Anglia.
A disused track, rusting barbed-wire fence, War Department Keep Out sign. Half-buried, an odd little heap of personal belongings. Uneasily quiet, no bird song, weeds growing up through cracked concrete, sand drifting in from the beach.
A dead place.
But a place that contained a live secret. A live secret that could still kill after forty years' burial. Kill horribly.

opening lines:
'Where does that road lead to, I wonder?'

In which two common themes of popular culture are brought together: first, the idea that the Nazis had secret, technologically advanced weapons, and second, that behind the democratic facade of Britain is an autocratic para-state. The problem is that the two just don't hang together.

We start with a couple of journalists uncovering an apparent state secret out in Norfolk. In return for their pains, they find themselves attacked by shadowy figures who inevitably turn out to be intelligence agents, and ultimately get taken into custody. This is all going along quite happily - if derivatively - when we suddenly switch to a wartime story about a Nazi commando unit bringing a source of radioactivity to Britain as a way of demonstrating the awesome advances being made by German weapons engineers.

Which is also fine - if derivative - but leaves you asking: who the hell is telling this story? Certainly none of the people we've met in the earlier section of the book. What we've got is an omniscient narrator who's arrived from nowhere, with no justification. And it just doesn't work. What's the point of starting in the world of investigative journalism, if the journalists don't actually uncover the story and we have to break fictional convention to get the background?

The story itself is harmless enough, and peopled with all the clichés of Nazi fiction, including the deadlier-than-the-male temptress:

And then there was Sonja Platten. She was extraordinarily beautiful and yet probably more potentially evil and scheming than all the men combined. She had been raised in an intelligent and civilised society, but the animal instincts which lay dormant in everyone had come out of her in that cavern in Bavaria. She had revelled in the brutality, and she would never forget what she had done. (p.126)

Rubbish really, then? Oh yes, and - although it's not unreadable - it is full of clumsy phrase-making like that 'probably more potentially evil'.


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