Book Review: Catalyst by Paul Byers

2405631Title: Catalyst

Author: Paul Byers

Genre: Thriller, Spy Thriller, Historical Fiction

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Goodreads, Amazon

In the waning months of World War II, the allied armies advance upon the crumbling German war machine like a juggernaut. In a final desperate bid to save the Fatherland, a plan is conceived that could turn the tide of the war-the completion of an advanced jet-propelled bomber capable of delivering a deadly payload to the shores of America. Captain Griff Avery of the OSS has just botched the defection of a prominent German physicist, a man crucial to the Nazi end game, letting him fall into the hands of the rogue SS General masterminding the plot. But Avery’s troubles have only just begun: overwhelming evidence points to the woman he loves as the German spy who foiled the defection. Now under suspicion himself, Avery sifts through the lies and deceit, uncovering the treacherous German operation. Against orders and on the run, Avery is forced to wage a secret war of his own, recruiting the crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress and a reckless group of flyboys and their P-51 Mustangs to help him hunt down the secret SS cell and prevent the slaughter-no matter what the cost.

Catalyst starts out promising with a scary, suspenseful air battle that immediately sets the tone for the rest of the book. We meet Griff Avery, our protagonist, who is commanding officer for the flight forces, and whose mission fails. He’s confronted by a guilty conscious over losing his men for the first time, because this time around he’s directly responsible. He struggles with a secret plan he’s helped put into motion, a new relationship that puts him on edge because the woman in question may be involved in a German spy plot, and the world around him is slowly crumbling to pieces.

This book is reminiscent of movies like Inglorious Bastards, a sort of what-if scenario if world war two went differently. I read some reviews on Amazon that tackle the author’s supposed lack of research, but I don’t think that’s what the author was trying to do here. I mean, if this is a what-if version, one must allow an author some creative freedom. The plot for Inglorious Bastards never worked out in real life either, and nobody’s gone off to bash the movie about its terrible research. In Catalyst, it’s obvious that the author has an extensive knowledge of aviation during World War two, and in his what-if version of the war, places the Russians in France at a time when they obviously weren’t there, and does some other things that aren’t historically correct. But this is a spy thriller, not non-fiction, so give it a break.

Anyway, moving on, I kind of liked the build-up of this book. It started out slow, deliberately taking the time to introduce us to the main characters, but then the pace picks up, and we’re sent from an England devastated by bombings to the relatively unharmed USA, back to the heart of the war in Germany. I haven’t read a lot of spy novels before, but I might have to pick them up more often, because I really enjoyed the spy aspect of this book.

That aside, while the plot is strong and well thought-through, there were some things that annoyed me enough to fret over them. I’m not keen on deus-ex-machina, or on coincedences. It gets almost laughable when a German officer spreads classified secrets by talking about them to another officer, in English, with an English captive standing right there. Forgive me if I’m not busying that. And sometimes the rescue missions were a bit too coincedental, while this could’ve easily been avoided.

Avery was a decent character, a mishmash of strength and weaknesses, definitely not a straight about hero, but rather a forced-hero type. I liked his no-nonsense attitude, and his abillity to keep his cool in desperate situations. I rather liked Lincoln as well, especially his laid-back humor. Strovinski was another like for me. His personality was build up of contradictions, which I really enjoy reading about in characters. However, there were lots of other characters we’re introduced to that never reach above the name-on-a-page phase, which was a bit of a dissapointment.

I finished this book in about three sittings, because this is the kind of book that demands a break every now and then to wrap your mind around what happens. By about a third into the book, the pace really picks up and so many things start happening that it’s hard to keep track of what happens first. I enjoyed the fast-paced hunt for the spy, the flight to prevent the attack, and the many action sequences. This book would make a great movie, if anyone ever decides to buy the movie rights.

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