I’m sad. I finished Black Cross by Greg Iles last night. It was nearly five hundred pages of amazingly good storytelling and I didn’t want it to be over. It was truly one of those books that you devour because it’s so good you just have to find out what happens but, at the same time, you want to smack yourself for reading so fast because you just know it’s going to be hard to find a book that even comes close to it.
One thing that makes a good book, in my humble opinion, is the likability of the characters. Iles outdid himself with Black Cross. The story is set in World War II and the two primary characters are spies going into Nazi Germany so it would be easy to have it be black and white, good guys and bad guys. In this story, even the bad guys have redeeming qualities. Save for two who are truly evil, but you must have some pure bad in every story. The two primary characters, McConnell and Stern, are as different as night and day. They have motivations that are completely different, but they’re both right.
It’s a complicated balance, but it’s real.
Nothing is cut and dry about war, creating nerve gas, and deciding who gets to live and die. It’s all a gray area. Iles makes that clear in this story.
Having read the whole story, I’ve come to the conclusion that I would not want to be in the place of Mark McConnell, Jonas Stern, Rachel Jansen, Anna Kaas, Avram Stern, or Ariel Weitz. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, but I hope and pray that if I ever found myself in a similar situation, I could be as brave and as strong as they were.
Because, fictional or not, one of the things this book makes you realize, even if you already knew it, is that there were actually people who did all that and more as part of the resistance to the Nazis.
They are the heroes.