June 6, 1944. On the dawn of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, two snipers find themselves fighting a battle all their own. One is a backwoods hunter from the Appalachian Mountains in the American South, while the other is the dreaded German "Ghost Sniper" who earned his nickname on the Eastern Front. Locked in a deadly duel across the hedgerow country of France, the hunter matches wits and tactics against the marksman, both of them one bullet away from victory or defeat as Allied forces struggle to gain a foothold in Europe.
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"This is war boy! Of course they'll shoot back."
Or: "A game of chess, with rifles."
Growing up in the post war Britain of the 1940s and '50s, there was a plethora of fictional war story books available and, being an avid reader, I devoured as many as I could.. Perhaps understandably, they all tended to glorify the allies and denigrate the Germans and I had to wait until I found The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw before I read one in which the Huns were treated as ordinary humans, too. So this story of a German sniper, one of the Germans putting up a losing defensive battle against the incoming American and British troops of the Normandy landing, and the mutual duel into which he and a U.S. farm boy hunter on the allied side engage, is refreshingly balanced. Both have flaws and weaknesses, both have qualities to endear them to the listener - and both are determined to kill the other.
Starting off with the horrific landing on Omaha Beach, the story follows both a hastily put together tiny sniper unit of Americans, formed to try to protect the vulnerable troops surviving the landing from being picked off by the Germans encamped in and around the open field areas as the allies slowly advance into France; and, simultaneously, that of a German officer sniper, itself an unusual combination, wounded and decorated on the Russian front and recuperating in France.in sight of the allied landings. As time passes, the battle between the German and one of the Americans becomes personal, each trying to outwit the other as the rest of the war continues around them.
The inherent tensions and excitement of this story are further enhanced by the excellent narration. J. Scott Bennett's deliciously expressive southern accent perfectly complimenting the text and giving extra life to the protagonists, especially that of the American, Cole. His voicings of all the protagonists is good, although the single Tommy does have a slightly odd accent, but it is consistent and still recognisable as a Brit. But it is the steady pacing in which he excels, calmly, calmly just as a sniper must watch, wait, unhurried, Mr.Bennett increases the breath holding scenes to near bursting capacity. Two rivals, each well matched and both with their life to lose in a fraction of an ill considered moment. Fantastic.
This is a war story, yes, but so much more. it is a battle of wills, moments of near stillness when the chaos of life swirling about. And it is a fight to the death.
Simple but brilliant story, filled with real people in an unforgiving situation, tension filled but with flashes of humour, wonderfully read - what more could a listener require?
- Norma Miles