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HART'S WAR


by John Katzenbach

Ballantine Books, August 2000 (paperback)
ISBN: 0345426258

Reviewed by Cherie Jung

I missed this book when it first came out in hardcover back in 1999. For that matter, I missed it when it came out in paperback. I only picked it up recently because I saw the movie, of the same title, and wondered how closely the movie followed the book. I found the movie enjoyable and engrossing, despite having Bruce Willis in it. I found the book even more so.

I read very few legal thrillers. I have never read Grisham. I am also, not normally a fan of Katzenbach's writing style. That's not to say that he doesn't have a large and loyal fan base. He has written several other thrillers, including JUST CAUSE, which also became a film. HART'S WAR is the first book by Katzenbach that has truly kept me riveted to the page. Perhaps that is because the setting of the legal proceedings is inside a German POW camp during WWII -- an unusual venue for a courtroom drama these days. I like war movies and military stories.

The basic premise is that Hart was a law student before the war interrupted his studies. As a prisoner in a German POW camp, he is allowed to put his studies to work in the defense of a Black airman charged with the murder of a fellow prisoner. There are plenty of twists and turns for the reader as the trial develops.

I found the story line compelling and the characters well drawn. The author has created a vivid sense of the desperation and tedium life in a POW camp would entail. The tension between prisoners is palpable. An eruption of violence, almost inevitable. And the trial? The proceedings will capture your imagination and have you wanting to get in on the action.

Reading the book after I had seen the movie version was not disappointing to me. Since I like the book version better, seeing the movie first worked for me. If you can't wait to see the movie, at least pick up a copy of the book so you'll have it available for when you get home from seeing the movie.

For those of you who prefer your books, not in book form. This title is also available as an unabridged audio cassette, and in an e-book format for Microsoft Reader and Adobe Reader.

Now I might try the latest novel Katzenbach has written, called THE ANALYST.

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