The action begins in the winter of 1945. A blizzard rages on a glacier in Iceland. A plane loses its way, dropping from the sky, and skimming over the surface of the glacier. When the plane skids to a stop, one man, with a briefcase chained to his wrist, decides to take his chances against the elements and leaves the plane to find the homes whose lights he had glimpsed from the sky. Those who survived the crash decide to stay, knowing that either way, no one is likely to survive the cold. Two brothers on a nearby farm watch the plane’s descent but the storm is so powerful and lasts for so long that it is ten days before they can inform anyone of the crash. When rescue teams arrive, there is no sign of the plane. All that can be found is a wheel rim with the word KRUPPSTAHL, indicating that a German Junker is the plane that has been absorbed into the glacier.
In 1999, a satellite image appears on a screen in a warehouse near Washington, DC, an outpost for military intelligence analysts. For years, the glacier in Iceland has been monitored and on Wednesday, January 27, fifty-four years after it crashed, the German plane is emerging from the ice.
That same morning, Kristin, a lawyer with the Foreign Ministry in Reykjavik, has a most unpleasant meeting with Runolfur, a man who has lost money doing business in Russia and is demanding that Kristin force the ministry to repay him. The meeting ends with Ranolfur throwing a chair. Kristin is warned by her superiors in the ministry to take Ranolfur seriously, to be very careful. Kristin is 10 years older than her brother, Elias, and despite the age difference, they are very close. Elias is part of the Reykjavik Rescue Team, responsible for helping people who are overtaken by the harsh and unpredictable weather of the area. He is working on the glacier.
The Americans have been interested in the plane since the war. Working from the American airbase in Iceland, Admiral Carr assigns Ratoff, an operative within the military to keep everyone away from the plane until it can be taken to the United States. Ratoff’s resume is filled with the damning details of his methods but he gets things done. He will protect the plane and not care much about what he has to do to accomplish it.
Kristin gets a panicked call from Elias. She can barely understand him. He and his friend, Johann, were testing new snowmobiles away from the main group when they are chased by armed soldiers. The plane was never meant to emerge from the ice and the secrets it carries are as dangerous now as they were when the plane flew out of Germany.
OPERATION NAPOLEON is a quick and entertaining reading experience. The action alternates between 1945 and 1999 and between Iceland and Washington, DC. The story in 1999 unfolds over three days through short chapters. It is, of course, a story whose genesis is in the machinations of the Nazi leadership as they tried to escape from the country they destroyed to places where money could buy them their anonymity and their lives. There are stories about “Jewish” gold, the precious metal that was melted into bars from jewelry, objects d’art, and teeth from the death camps. And the story ends in Argentina.
The author keeps all the strands of the story separate until it comes to an end that is predictable but with a twist.
If readers approach the book knowing that this is not an Erlendur story, that it is something completely different, it can be enjoyed on its own merits.
I received this book through a drawing on Goodreads.