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“I used to think, like most everyone else,that if you were a ‘real’ man, you wouldn’t be afraid.  But I was wrong.  After being with these guys so long, I came to realize that there’s no shame in being scared.  It’s what you do with your fear that defines you.  Courage is not being fearless, it’s doing your job in the face of that fear.”

Avery considered Thomas’ words for a moment.  “I never really thought about it before, but I guess you’re right.  Thanks.”

(from Catalyst, page 116)

Catalyst is a bit historical fiction and a bit alternate history set during the final days of World War II.  Paul Byers centers his novel on Captain Griff Avery, a “mediocre” intelligence officer in the Office of Strategic Services, whose troubles begin when plans to get a physicist tasked with helping the Nazis build a nuclear weapon out of Germany backfire.

While Avery tries to piece together how the mission fell apart, he begins a romance with his aide, Anna Roshinko, who he then begins to suspect is a German spy.  He also comes upon evidence of an underground facility where the Nazis are building a new type of bomber and getting ready to attack New York City and London with dirty bombs.  He teams up with a fighter pilot friend, his bomber pilot nephew, an old man in the Maquis, and a Tuskegee airman in a POW camp to take down an evil SS major, save thousands of lives, and clear his name.

Avery and his efforts to foil the Nazi bomb plot are the basis of the novel, but the battles involving the American fighter pilots and bomber crews really take center stage.  Byers goes into a lot of description about the planes and their maneuvers, and it becomes obvious early on that planes are his passion.  I have no idea how accurate these scenes are, as I am not much interested in warplanes, and at first I thought there was too much of a focus on the battles in the sky.  I kept wanting to get back to the story about the scientist, but soon I realized that the action and tension in the air were the best parts of the book.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Catalyst overall.  The writing isn’t bad despite the editing issues I encountered, and the story had a lot of action to move it forward.  But I found it too predictable, which is okay with chick lit romances yet doesn’t work in military thriller novels.  There was a whole lot of deus ex machina toward the end, and everything was wrapped up a bit too neatly for my tastes.  I think I would have bought Avery as a “mediocre” intelligence officer and his romance with Anna had his character been a bit more developed.  I felt like I had a better understanding of Claubert, the Maquis agent, and Lincoln, the Tuskegee airman, than I did Avery, which probably explains why they were my favorite characters.

Still, I liked Catalyst because it showed me that I don’t have to shy away from World War II novels that are a bit heavier on military strategy than my usual reading fare.  Byers also does a great job showing how the pilots and their crews worked as a team and how they were able to perform under such pressure.  One scene in which a B-17 ball turret gunner realizes he is going to die and comes to terms with it even while expressing his fears made me cry.  Byers also emphasizes the senselessness of war when after destroying a German U-boat, the Americans pick up and treat the wounded Germans they’d just been trying to kill.  In Catalyst, Byers shows how war heroes are imperfect and scared yet somehow find the courage to keep moving, and how sometimes war involves a lot of strategy but also a lot of luck.

Book 3 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of Catalyst from the author for review. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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