'The Odin Mission' by James Holland (2008)

The Odin Mission - James Holland

James Holland, The Odin Mission (London: Corgi Books, 2009), 463pp


An enjoyable light read. Not a great book but entertaining enough. In particular, I am pleased James Holland chose Norway 1940 as his setting. Little attention is given in popular media to the earlier stages of World War Two (except for the Battle of Britain). This is for two reasons: 1) most are American-made and so take place post-1941, and 2) for its part, British media is understandably more inclined to focus on the later years of the war when the country was on the winning side. A story which sheds light on an often-forgotten campaign, depicting refreshingly new locations and employing unusual weaponry, is to be commended. Holland's 'Historical Note' postscript is also useful, as the author - a notable historian - describes how he fit Tanner's fictional story into the factual historical narrative of the Norway campaign.

However, there was little that made me invest in the characters. Flaws and failings are what drive character development but Sgt. Jack Tanner seems too competent - he is the perfect action soldier, never overwhelmed and he seems to have a plan (that always works) for every circumstance. With the exception of the French Lieutenant Chevannes, the British and Norwegian officers that Tanner encounters in the story are far too willing to submit to the sergeant's direction. Some parts in particular seemed to stretch credulity (without giving away too much, I'm thinking of the scene in which he acquires a Spandau machine-gun after a well-placed right hook despite just regaining consciousness).

Other negatives include the reason why 'Odin' is such a coveted asset for the Germans (it is a credible reason, but also a disappointing one) and the portrayal of the Frenchmen. Lieutenant Chevannes initially seems the stereotypical depiction of a self-important Frenchman (though the character improves towards the end as his feud with Tanner intensifies) and the French mountain troops who accompany him are rarely mentioned, and even more rarely by name. An attempt to integrate them into Tanner's ragtag bunch of British and Norwegian survivors (perhaps creating a conflict between the French and British soldiers) would have improved the story.

Having said that, it was an entertaining read. Sometimes you just want a decent story - easy to read and full of action. James Holland provides this with The Odin Mission, and I enjoyed it enough that I plan on reading the second Jack Tanner novel, Darkest Hour.