“V2” by Robert Harris – a novel featuring weapons and war but really about people and choices

V2 is an historical novel by Robert Harris which centres on the building and launching of the weapons aimed at London towards the end of WW2. I like Robert Harris’ novels, as those of you who regularly read my blog will know, and this book was another excellent and enjoyable novel. The author has written a number of books based around the war including Munich, Fatherland and Enigma. And, of course his best-selling non-fiction title is Selling Hitler which is a fascinating story about the hoax perpetuated on historians and journalists also involves war details.

This novel follows two separate strands. The first concentrates on Rudi Graf who is part of the team launching the rockets. He has been involved in rocket research with his friend Werner Von Braun since the early 1930s and became part of the war effort when the Nazis took over the research. Von Braun and the rocket programme are documented fact but Graf is a character created for the novel to illustrate the moral dilemmas created by the weapons research and later in the wholesale transfer of the scientists involved to America to head up the space programme. Graf is not overly concerned about these matters at the start of the war but by the time that this book is set he is having problems reconciling what he is ordered to do with what he knows is right – these new feelings will eventually cause him to make some life changing choices about his actions.

Kay Caton-Walsh is a British WAAF who works with the Air Ministry and ends up in newly liberated Belgium with a team trying to chart the trajectories of the missiles so that they can backtrack them to their launch sites which can then be destroyed. She has already come close to death when in London when a V2 rocket destroyed the building she had just left. Kay and her colleagues work and play hard but there are dangers in Belgium at this time, physically and also of treachery.

The author obviously knows a lot about this subject but doesn’t dump all the information on the reader. Even someone like myself with no great interest in or understanding of science can follow what is happening and understand what is important. Seeing the same set of events from two viewpoints is fascinating but I confess that I was expecting more interaction between the two main characters than we got – although when it did happen I thought that it was excellently done.

This is well paced and well concluded although it’s not as action filled as you might expect from thrillers. That didn’t worry me – Enigma was much the same. I liked reading about what felt like real people and exploring an interesting bit of war history. I found the book gripping and the tense and secretive atmosphere in both locations added to the enjoyment. Another excellent book by this author.