Mysterious Press, $26.00, 401 pages, ISBN 978-0-8021-2323-7
One hundred years ago, all of Europe was in the midst of what was then called the Great War, or World War I as we now know it. It was the first fully mechanized war and the battlefield casualties were so great that they’re almost incomprehensible by today’s standards, due to the invention of new war machines like the belt-fed water-cooled machine gun; armor plated mobile gun platforms called tanks; gigantic artillery pieces mounted on railroad cars and moved by locomotives, that could hurl twenty-four inch shells for fifteen to twenty miles; submarines that prowled the oceans in groups known as wolf packs, which devastated and terrorized shipping; motorized heavier-than-air machines called aero planes, which battled for supremacy in the sky; and most disturbing of all perhaps, the invention and use of poison gasses based on chlorine and phosgene, capable of killing by the thousands. As all of those developments were happening on the battlefields, another newly-developed weapon was terrorizing the civilian citizens of London. They were giant airships called Zeppelins which came calling in the night without warning, bringing indiscriminate death to men, women and children as they dropped high explosive and incendiary bombs on the helpless and innocent victims in the streets below.
The Empire of Night, by Robert Olen Butler is the third installment of his delightful Christopher Marlowe Cobb series of novels which began with The Hot Country, which was about German involvement in the Mexican Civil War, circa 1915; then continues with The Star of Istanbul, about the sinking of the passenger liner Lusitanian and German activity in the Middle East during World War I; and now, his newest, The Empire of Night, about the bombing of London during the early to middle parts of the war. All feature the intrepid and fearless newspaper reporter and citizen-spy, whom we know simply as Kit.
The Empire of Night is character-driven historical fiction at its best, with all the action, intrigue, treachery, danger and drama of any contemporary spy novel, while also featuring a tender, but ultimately tragic love affair at it’s core. With the ground campaign stalemated in France and Belgium, the German high command is desperate to find a way to gain the upper hand. Their plan is to turn the Zeppelins into unstoppable killing machines that rain death from the skies . . . unless they can be stopped by Kit Cobb . . . who may lose his life in the process. History comes alive in the hands of Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler, and he’s created one of his most memorable and endearing protagonists in contemporary fiction—making him one of my absolute favorites! Do yourself a favor and read this great series and you, like me, will be eagerly looking forward to the next book.