New Orleans might seem an unexpected location for a thriller set in World War II, but in Nazi Saboteurs on the Bayou we discover that the city is home not only to a boat-building company vital to the Allies, but also to German-American Nazi sympathizers: a volatile combination. However, the wider implications of the events that ensue cause ripples throughout the US and UK military, as well as within the New Orleans branch of the Mafia and beyond. Although the book depicts a number of real-life characters, the statement at the start of the book seems to imply that the events within it happened, but are not acknowledged by any of the relevant authorities – which of course makes it all the more intriguing.
The action is centred around New Orleans, and paints a very vivid picture of the city and the lives and livelihoods of those who lived there during World War II. I have not been to New Orleans, but I feel very much as if I dropped in there for a while in the oppressive heat of late summer 1942! We also find ourselves in other parts of the world, among codebreakers in the UK and US Marines in the South Pacific. It took me a while to realise the links between some of the characters and locations, but all is revealed in good time.
The story is peppered liberally with ‘ripping yarns’ and incidental background knowledge. Characters often share stories and information about the events of World War II up to 1942, as well more general history. These digressions make for a longer narrative and at times interrupt the flow of the story, but they are ultimately relevant and often interesting.
There are a lot of characters to become acquainted with and initially it feels as if there are almost too many to keep track of, but this changes as the story goes on. The book is peopled with boat builders, members of the Mafia, codebreakers, prostitutes, spies, marines – including Navajo code-talkers – and German-American New Orleanians. They are generally portrayed deftly, and mingle very successfully with the real-life characters. The non-fictional characters, such as Andrew Jackson Higgins, Chester Nez and Ian Fleming, and their roles in World War II, have been researched well and give the story additional weight.
I really enjoyed this well-realised, thought-provoking thriller and its varied cast of characters, as well as the fact that it offers an unusual angle on World War II. It feels very cinematic at times, and had me thinking about which actors I would pick for the main roles. And my knowledge of military slang has definitely improved, to boot!