Ordinary Heroes


Scott Turow


Fiction / Literature


Date Reviewed:

Febuary 25, 2006

rdinary Heroes is a story about war, and the unlikely things it does to those who fight in them. Idealism, morality, principals can all be tossed aside in the struggle for survival, but nobility and sacrifice are also displayed. When sifting through the old letters of his father's effects, a son is astounded to discover that his deceased Dad was court martialed at the end of World War 2. His dad (David Durbin) never spoke of these events, and the son is intrigued; since Turow is the son is an investigative reporter, he knows how to go about getting answers. Eventually, the son receives a manuscript (whose existence was previously unsuspected) written by his father and given to his defense lawyer at the time of the court martial. The son tracks down this still living lawyer and learns a lot about his dad and the events at the end of the war. The majority of Ordinary Heroes is the text of that manuscript.

What I like best about this book is the description of the Battle of the Bulge. Durbin is a serving as a JAG, a military lawyer, and he has been sent out to bring Major Martin back to headquarters for questioning. Martin has been working for the resistance, and he has been enormously successful at it - in fact, Durbin ends up accompanying Martin on a mission to blow an Nazi ammo dump hidden in a mountain tunnel. But Martin is suspected of serving the Russians rather than the Americans, so headquarters wants him brought in. (Is Martin the hero and General who sends Durbin out to arrest him the scoundrel? Or are the General's suspicions correct, and Martin is serving the commies? It is never black and white.) After the raid on the ammo dump, Martin eludes Durbin and disappears into the fog of war. Eventually, however, word comes that Martin is last seen where the Battle of the Bulge is fighting, so Durbin ends up parachuting into the thick of the fighting. Durbin is quickly pressed into duty with the short handed defenders. Durbin ends up commanding a company of soldiers on a cold wintery night, wondering if the Germans will attack from that direction as they attempt to take Bastogne. It is a pretty effective story, probably the best part of the book.

There is a big "surprise" at the end of the novel, but if you think for half a minute, it won't be any revelation. It is not the surprise that makes this a good book, but the portrayal of men and women at war.

There aren't any good guys or bad guys in this novel - everyone has their flaws and their sterling qualities. Maybe that is the underlying message here, about the brutal effects war has on a person, on humanity, forcing them to question everything they believe. Durbin ends up chasing Martin toward a liberated concentration camp at the end, so we get a grim tour of that hell.

This is a good book, the plot moves right along. Durbin chases Martin around France and Germany in the middle of a full scale war. Is Martin really in the employ of the Russians? Why does Durbin get court martialed? It's a fast read, and interesting too. It wouldn't surprise me if they made a movie out of this one.