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Book Review: Fatal Incident

Fatal Incident. Jim Proebstle. Emerald Book Company, Austin, TX, 2011, Hardcover, 377 pages.

Reviewed by Janet Feduska Cole.

The World War II setting for Fatal Incident is one of my favorite historical genres. Without question, those fateful years encompassed a period filled with unspeakable horrors, but they also gave rise to incredible stories of intrigue and courage.  Fatal Incident is one of those stories.

As with many other works of historical fiction, the Fatal Incident tale is rooted in both fact and fiction. This account focuses more on human relationships than on historical incidents. It describes in vivid detail the toll the war takes on two young brothers—based on real-life characters—who love flying above all else. The reader first experiences their carefree and adventurous lives as young men. The war years stand in sharp contrast. One shares the uncertainty, loneliness, and isolation of Nick and his young wife, Martha. Their painful separation is a result of Nick being stationed in Alaska, while Martha is enduring her first pregnancy in Minnesota without him.

Our hero, Nick Morgan, in his zeal to serve his country, converts from being a commercial airline pilot to flying military cargo planes, transporting equipment and troops through bitter and sometimes unchartered areas of Alaska. His courage, intelligence, and skill make him a pilot in demand, resulting in assignments to the most dangerous missions. One such assignment involves taking a high-ranking general and a renowned physicist over barren Alaskan flats while they ponder the feasibility of using the area to test the newly developed atomic bomb.

His skills are so impressive that the general requests for Nick to pilot the plane for a repeat mission. This time, in addition to the general and his entourage, the plane transports troops on their way home for a brief leave.

Unbeknownst to the US military, their Alaskan bases have been infiltrated by Russian operatives. Russia, nervous about the US’s forces being in such close proximity to the homeland, and the rumors of the US having successfully built an atom bomb, are relying on their strategically-placed operatives as well as the recruitment of disillusioned American soldiers to gather intelligence

The insecurities of one nation combined with the perceived aggressiveness of another have tragic consequences for our young hero during this final mission.

Although I did not consider this book to be a page turner (my description for a book that I can’t put down until I’ve sucked every detail from it), I found it to be a compelling, poignant, and well-written read. Unlike entirely fictional mysteries that often have satisfying conclusions, the ending to this saga, based on real-life events, remains a mystery to the families involved, as well as to the reader.

In addition to the author’s meticulous and detailed narration of unfolding events, I loved the references to Wonder Lake and the stark and incredible beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. Having hiked in the rugged Alaskan backcountry and canoed in some of the beautiful Alaskan Lakes, I felt these areas spring to life. Fatal Incident is a poignant and enriching tale of events that take place in one of the most remote areas of our country during a dramatic historical period.

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