The story Harris weaves, about Hitler’s last attempts to win the war with the building of ten thousand V2 missiles, is a story with enough historical fact to make it viable and absorbing.
The two main characters are Rudi Graf, an associate of von Braun, a scientist drawn into helping with these missiles but disillusioned by Hitler and aware that Germany is losing. Von Braun is a shadow in the background, a figure whose obsession with space travel led to the creation of a weapon of mass destruction, while the whole time he dreamed of taking a rocket to the moon.
On the English side we have Kay Caton-Walsh, an officer in the WAAF. In the beginning she is in a hotel with her lover when a V2 strikes, causing mayhem and death. She joins a unit in Belgium where, armed only with a slide rule and equations, her team must try to locate the launch sites of these weapons.
On both sides there are difficulties and conflicts within the characters themselves as well as within their situations, all seeming plausible while immersing the reader in time and place. Harris is a master at mixing history with fiction and this story is both illuminating and engrossing. Even though we know how the conflict ends, as readers we are drawn into the fiction and captivated by unfolding events.
Although possible in theory, the ending where Kay meets Rudi and he decides to stay in England rather than go to America with von Braun, was the only part that felt improbable. But then, one remembers, this is a work of fiction. It’s an easy read and leaves the reader wanting to know more about this aspect of the war.
In the acknowledgements section of V2 Harris explains his inspiration for the novel. It is pertinent to the whole story. He saw an obituary of a former WAAF and subsequently read her memoirs. She had been sent to Mechelen to help find the launch sites for the V2 missile. Before reading the memoirs, he had been unaware of the wartime operation there to halt the V2s.
The novel is well-researched, and Harris has a way to making history accessible and compelling. It is no wonder he is regarded as a master in his field. This was an immensely readable novel as well as informative.
V2 by Robert Harris is published by Penguin Random House. Harris has written thirteen bestselling novels, many of them translated into other languages and several have been adapted into films.