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Most will know Michael Dobbs--not to be confused with the Washington Post correspondent and author of the same name--as the novelist who gave us House of Cards, later a wickedly good British tv import starring Ian Richardson as the deliciously evil Francis Urquhart. Among his novels since, he's written a quartet about a no less psychologically complex prime minister, but a real one: Winston Churchill. This entry in the series takes Churchill from his ascension to power at the outbreak of WWII through the retreat from Dunkirk. At a recent lecture, the pundit Mark Steyn referred to this as the most fraught moment of the 20th Century, a point where history could have turned had other British politicians prevailed and negotiated a peace with Nazi Germany. Mr. Dobbs provides a dramatic, even melodramatic, take on these events.

The Churchill herein is an odd combination of, on the one hand, stubborn resistance to Hitler and the idea of British surrender and, on the other, such overwhelming insecurity and self-doubt that he needs a German refugee woman to steel his resolve and challenge his manhood. Most of all, he comes across as the son of the tragi-comic failure Randolph Churchill, determined to redeem his father's reputation by succeeding in his stead. This much of the story works reasonably well, though the great man seems almost pathetic at times. It's nonetheless fun to watch him navigate amongst the King, Lord Halifax, Neville Chamberlain, and others as he tries to keep Britain going in dire circumstances.

Less successful is the parallel story of a young conscientious objector who is trying to escape from France with the BEF. Other historical novels have worked well enough when they mix fictional and factual characters, but maybe not when the one and the other are presented as balancing each other out. William Safire's Freedom includes Lincoln as one character, but he's the main character and then a number of others fill in the action. Herman Wouk's Winds of War features cameos by the likes of FDR and Stalin, but the focus is on the personal story of Pug. Well, you get the idea. Here the story comes to a screeching halt every time Mr. Dobbs turns his attention, and ours, from Churchill. He's dealing with matters of world-shaping import, so there's a fundamental imbalance when we shift to the almost trivial escapades of one serviceman. Plus Churchill's is such a dominating personality that the other character would have to be truly beguiling to hold our interest and this one just isn't. The result is an intermittently entertaining book that could have been a considerably better one with some decent editing.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Historical Fiction
Michael Dobbs Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Official U.S. Website of Michael Dobbs - Author
    -HarperCollins Publishers | Author | Michael Dobbs
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Michael Dobbs (
    -WIKIPEDIA: Michael Dobbs
    -ESSAY: Right of Reply (Michael Dobbs, 5/04/00, The Independent)
    -RADIO PROFILE: BBC - Radio 4 Open Book - Michael Dobbs
    -PROFILE: Machiavellian? You should meet the wives: Political novelist Michael Dobbs has turned his attention to the 'scheming, greedy, bitchy' women behind our MPs. (Tom Leonard, 19/11/2006, Daily Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: Best-Selling Author Michael Dobbs Shares His Thoughts On Writing (Norm Goldman, October 30, 2007, American Chronicle)
    -ARCHIVES: "michael dobbs (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Never Surrender by Michael Dobbs (Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Winston's War, by Michael Dobbs (Sue Arnold, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of (Winston's War (Julia Flynn , Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Winston's War (David Isaacson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Winston's War (Andrew Roberts, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Churchill's Hour by Michael Dobbs (Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: for Churchill's Triumph by Michael Dobbs (Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Churchill's Triumph by Michael Dobbs (Edward Pearce, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Churchill's Triumph (Michael Evans, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of Churchill's Triumph (Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Churchill's Triumph (David Robson , Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Whispers of Betrayal by Michael Dobbs (J. Kingston Pierce, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of First Lady by Michael Dobbs (David Robson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of First Lady (Margaret Cook, The Guardian)

Winston's War (2002)
Never Surrender (2003)
Churchill's Hour (2004)
Churchill's Triumph (2005)

Book-related and General Links:

    -OBIT: Actor Ian Richardson dead at 72 (Nigel Reynolds, 2/09/07, Daily Telegraph)