Matt Hartman is a freelance editor and cataloguer, running Hartman Cataloguing, Editing and Indexing Services.
Dennis Jones has improved with each of his four novels. Plots have become more intricate; characters are deeper, more complex. The writing has become effectively understated, dialogue deft and pointed, scene-setting evocative with local colour. Indeed, there has been a geometric progression of this writer’s skills from book to book.
Barbarossa Red takes for its setting a time in the future when the United States and the USSR have mutually decided to withdraw some of their medium-range missiles from Europe, the result of a treaty. West Germany’s newly elected chancellor, Rudel, has started to make moves toward a resurgent Germany: seeking a nuclear cooperation treaty with France; pulling out of NATO; reestablishing the General Staff. The Soviet Union is terrified of any German return toward militarism. Under pretext of Warsaw Pact maneuvers in East Germany, it sends shock troops across the border to the West, hoping that, with the advantage of surprise, it can win a conventional war; hoping, too, that the United States would hesitate to use nuclear weapons for fear of destroying the world.
Information is brought back and forth across the Berlin Wall by an assortment of agents and double agents, and it is through the portrayals of these agents and their “controls” on the other side that Jones is able to create much of his suspense. Those readers who enjoy the novels of John Le Carre will enjoy (and recognize) the methods Jones employs to play one spy against another: leaving clues and false leads, creating tension through the simple (yet effective) expediency of short scenes and swift action cutting from place to place — Berlin, Moscow, Washington, Bonn. Barbarossa Red is highly cinematic. The scene cutting and quick turns of plot coupled with strong characters would make an exciting movie. Watch for it.
The Stoddart edition is flawed too frequently by poor copyediting, and two pages have been interchanged in a crucial chapter. Withal, however, the book is strongly recommended for the public library.