REVIEW: Trial and Tribulation: A Novel of World War II by John Rhodes
It is 1943. In the skies above war-torn Europe a savage battle continues as Allied bomber crews rain down fire and destruction on Hitler’s cities, and Luftwaffe fighters tear the bombers to pieces. Faced with the destruction, Churchill asks, “Are we barbarians?”
Back in England, after the Siege of Malta and continents away from her estranged husband, fighter pilot Johnnie Shaux, strategic military analyst Eleanor Shaux is ordered to develop plans for the systematic destruction of Hitler’s wartime economy. To do so, she must navigate the quicksand of Allied politics and face the relentless male chauvinism of the bureaucratic and military establishments on both sides of the Atlantic—not to mention battling with the qualms of her own conscience.
Meanwhile decorated air combat hero Johnnie Shaux is at work developing ways to make Allied bombing more effective. He’s a survivor in a war in which very few survive, where casualty rates are sixty percent, and the only rule is “kill or be killed.” But he is finding it harder to view enemy soldiers as worthy of killing. When Eleanor discovers that Johnnie is back in England and is flying one last horribly dangerous mission—a mission she recommended—she rushes to await him. Will he survive? If he dies, can she live with her complicity in developing the mission he flew?
In the fourth book of the award-winning Breaking Point series, John Rhodes weaves the fictional story of fighter pilot Johnnie Shaux and military strategist Eleanor Shaux into the heartbreaking, inspiring historical fabric of World War II.
Dear Mr. Rhodes,
I was so excited to see the next installment in this series which features fighter pilot Johnnie Shaux and mathematician Eleanor Shaux – each fighting in their own way to help win World War II. As in the second book, “Infinite Stakes,” the two are separated for most of the book. The reasons behind it for the plot are that Eleanor feels her skills and knowledge are best utilized in London plus she’s being broken emotionally as she waits for Johnnie to return from raids, always wondering if he’ll return at all. The second reason allows for broader coverage of the many intricate cogs within the wheels of the war that couldn’t have been shown otherwise.
New readers might be able to begin the series here but starting with book one, “Breaking Point” will allow people to fully understand the mathematical model that Eleanor devised which has assisted those in power to make decisions based on statistical probability. As she gives world leaders her predictions, it also gives the book a rational reason for her to be in the company of Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, and other leading politicians and military leaders and for them to listen to her. Their attention is reluctant at times, yes, but Eleanor doesn’t back down from telling them what the math tells her and math doesn’t lie. Okay so Churchill has his reasons for sometimes needing 2 + 2 not to equal 4 but that’s what Eleanor will tell him will be the answer.
But is it worth it, she wonders. Leaving Johnnie – and taking his dog though Eleanor justifies this because if Johnnie dies in combat, who will look after Charlie? – was almost as painful as staying with him. Eleanor’s days are filled with work, avoiding the supercilious FO (Foreign Office) types, and batting away those who would try and take away her autonomy. Thank goodness for Harry Hopkins – Roosevelt’s right-hand man – who remembers Eleanor likes coffee (learned during her earlier stay in the US) and misses marmalade. He goes to bat for her but also drops the bomb about American choices going forward in terms of theaters of action and who will be in command. Eleanor has told all who will listen about her feelings regarding Stalin’s probable actions after the war and that the other Allied forces need to push as far into Europe as possible or National Socialism will be replaced by Communism. And over the course of the book, she can see British influence shrinking both now and in a postwar world.
Johnnie’s long held feelings of sadness at the loss of human life and guilt about his role in it are eating him up. Forced to go on a morale boosting tour of the US, Canada, and Australia, he’s got pat answers for the three most common questions he’s usually asked but not real answers. People don’t want to hear those. He’s always been in his own head a lot and Eleanor’s leaving has knocked him for a loop. Does he want to “fly a mahogany desk” back in England or move laterally to Bomber Command and, with the 50:50 odds of dying in any mission, have German fighter pilots end his internal debate?
Eleanor’s predictions drive increasingly large bomb raids against Germany. The lack of accuracy will be made up for with intensity. Throw enough ordinance at a target and the odds increase that it will actually be hit. The cost, however, in lives from both sides and destruction sickens her. She also unwittingly sets up the next impossible missions that Johnnie’s squadron is tasked with flying. Will he survive it and what will Eleanor do when she realizes what she’s done?
I should warn readers that in the beginning, Johnnie’s thoughts do turn to suicide in battle. He has obvious signs of what we call PTSD. As his squadrons are tasked with dangerous missions, many of the crew don’t make it back. Johnnie meets some US bomber crews whom he admires and the horrible way one of the young men dies is described. Eleanor needs data for her mathematical models and some of that is the amount of destruction caused by bombing raids – in this case on Hamburg.
Readers looking for romance probably won’t find much here as this series is much more historical fiction. Johnnie and Eleanor are deeply in love and their separation causes both much pain. Eleanor has to deal with the pain of being in love with a man who will probably die in combat and she does this by leaving though her thoughts are often on him. Johnnie, already suffering from PTSD and having nightmares about the people he’s killed, now has this loss as well. So yeah, for much of the time this isn’t a happy book. There is also some “As you know, Bob’ing” going on. It doesn’t make me happy but given the amount of information that needs to be conveyed, I can understand it.
I did enjoy the behind the scenes view of the political maneuvering going on among and between almost everyone. To paraphrase a saying, “Politics are like sausages. You should never watch them being debated and made.” Where the book really shines for me – but what might not interest a lot of readers – are the flying scenes. There is a lot of information and details about the preparation for and the “flights” that Johnnie and his squadron make. I was white knuckling my reading through many of them.
As the action taking place leaves us still in the early stages of the Italian campaign and only starting the planning for Overlord, as well as discussing Burma and support to Chiang Kai-Shek, much less wondering how the Shaux’s marriage is going, I hope that there will be more books in the series and I’ll be waiting for next year. B