Robert J. Mrazek

"The Deadly Embrace"

(Reviewed by Tony Ross MAY 11, 2007)

DEADLY EMBRACE by Robert J. Mrazek

When I first heard this book's premise, I was immediately intrigued. The D-Day invasion (aka Operation Overlord) is one of modern history's great "what ifs," with most speculation generally agreeing that, had it failed, the outcome of WWII may well have been quite different. So a plot revolving around the possible leakage of the D-Day plans to a German spy sounds like cracking great stuff, doesn't it?

Well, yes, and after my momentary excitement, I realized I'd read a book with a similar plot just last year. That book was The Cooler by George Markstein, and was a bestseller back in 1974. And then a moment later, I remembered reading another thriller with the same premise, as a child. That was Ken Follett's The Eye of the Needle , which was a bestseller circa 1978, and was also made into a clunky movie. A few days later, I was telling a friend about this coincidence, and he told me of yet two more bestsellers based on this premise: Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins (1986) and The Unlikely Spy the debut by Daniel Silva (1996). So, it would appear that this framework is good for one or two bestsellers a decade, and here is Mrazek with his entry.

Originality of premise aside, this is a mostly engaging and well-written period thriller. The heroine is Liza Marantz, a young Jewish forensic pathologist who enlisted in the U.S. Army and has arrived in England as the book starts. She is put to work for Major Taggart, an ex-New York City homicide detective now working for SHAEF's (ie. the Allied high command) head of security. His job is to make sure that none of the 400+ people with direct information about the time and location of the D-Day landings inadvertently or maliciously leaks that information. Liza starts off working for him as a mail censor, tediously reading through all outgoing correspondence, and in these early chapters, we are introduced to the wartime London of the Baby Blitz, food shortages, housing shortages, and the American occupation. The plot picks up when both women Liza shares an office with turn up dead within days of each other. This leads to Maj. Taggart and Liza teaming up to try and solve the murders and more importantly, determine if D-Day security has been compromised via pillow talk. This leads them into a corrupt world of arrogant high-ranking officers with unpleasant sexual appetites. At the same time, Liza is introduced to England's upper crust, one dashing member of which tugs at her heartstrings.

While the atmosphere is pretty good, the writing smooth, and the pacing nice, there are a few quibbles to be had with the book. One being the totally unnecessary coincidence of Liza's three officemates (a WAC, a Wren, and a codebreaker) all being central to the plot. They all worked on different projects, and there is absolutely no plot advantage to having them all work in the same place. Liza could have learned the clues she needed about them plenty of other ways. Another minor flaw is the obviousness of the clue to both the traitor's identity -- thriller writers everywhere take note, any time you make a big deal of someone's hair color, the reader's going to know it's important! A final quibble is that the dialogue sometimes seems a bit off. For example, it seems highly unlikely that an Oxbridge-educated gentleman, no matter how unpleasant, would plop down at a table in a club where some acquaintances are dining with a young woman he doesn't know, and start talking about another woman's "a**"! Similarly, a number of gentlemen bandy the word "bloody" about in Liza's presence without any trace of self-conciousness. I will grant that the war brought about great social changes and informality, but these kinds of phrases stuck out.

These quibbles aside, the book is a fun read, and Liza is a heroine who will appeal to anyone who likes their women smart and sure of themselves.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 14 reviews


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About the Author:

Robert J. Mrazek was born in November 1945 in Newport, Rhode Island, but grew up in Huntington, New York. He graduated from Cornell University in 1967. In 1968, he entered the US Navy and served in the Vietnam War but was discharged after being injured.

Mrazek was elected as a Democrat to the United States of House of Representatives from Long Island, New York and served from 1983 to 1993. Since his retirement from Congress, Mrazek has served on the boards of several companies and charitable organizations, including ten years as chairman of the Washington-based Alaska Wilderness League.

His first book, Stonewall's Gold, published in nine countries around the world, won the Michael Shaara Award for Civil War Fiction and the Civil War Society's Seal of Approval.

He lives in upstate New York and Maine.

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