In the first of a projected four-novel series, two American officers (Jennifer, a nurse, and Jonathan, an Army lieutenant) are sent to Norway to rescue an American physicist trapped behind enemy lines . . . and thus begins an adventure that takes them throughout the world theatre of the Second World War. The story follows not only the two brave lieutenants, but a few other main characters, as well, whose fates are interwoven with those of the Americans. To say any more about the plot would be to give it away, so I’ll let that suffice.
This WW2 thriller has all the makings of a transfixing movie; all of the elements are there: a gripping and unpredictable plot, stomach-churning twists and turns, romance and loss, and intimate views from historically important battles (such as the failed raid at Dieppe, the Russian Front, the Normandy D-Day invasion, and the Pacific theater). The author isn’t afraid to kill off major characters, either, lending to the atmosphere of suspense.
It is obvious that the plot was a carefully thought out and filled with creative ideas; the author also has a knack for creating suspense in action. However, two elements made this book rough going for me: characterization and dialogue.
To a reader who is not familiar with military curtness, the dialogue will appear stiff and the prose, straightforward and down-to-earth, perhaps overly so. Compared to flowery literary writing, it is. But one must consider the target audience before making grand pronouncements—after reading Footsteps to Forever, I believe the major audience the book is aimed at is the military (and those interested in things military)—people who appreciate bluntness and action over emotion- and characterization-focused plots and complex word play, the elements that seem to me to be lacking. The author breathes just enough life into his characters for the reader to sympathize and want to follow their adventures, but hardly enough to satisfy hardcore historical fiction fans, who have come to expect intense character development and an emotional pull along with their historical background. Personally, I would have enjoyed more details about these intriguing characters and more illustration of how their actions defined who they were—instead of being told that they did—as well as tension building in the romantic relationships.
Military thrillers are not the usual genre that I choose to read, but I am glad this book opened up my adventurous reading side—and the technical details regarding, for example, “heavy water” and the P-38 planes that were flown during WW2, also expanded my education. Dr. Samuel Baty has a twenty-two year career in the Air Force under his belt, as well as advanced education in engineering, and this knowledge base shines in Footsteps to Forever. Occasionally, the technical details overrode the story, but overall, they were kept in check.
The novel was cleanly edited—only a few typos—professionally typeset, and the cover was descriptive of the contents, if a little masculine for my personal taste. Then again, think “audience.”
If you want an engaging action-driven plot and can live with the lack of strong character development, you will enjoy this adventure. If, however, you are seeking a lush, character-driven period piece, this will not be your cup of tea. I enjoyed this book for exactly what it was—a thrilling WW2 adventure.
Footsteps to Forever by R. Samuel Baty, iUniverse, 2008, $19.95, paperback, ISBN 978-0-595-49640-2
Disclaimer: I have worked with this author in my official position at the HNS.