Blood & Honor takes place about two months after the events of Honor Bound. After successfully carrying out his mission of destroying a “neutral” vessel replenishing German submarines in Argentine territorial waters, Cletus Frade and Tony Pelosi have returned to USA; with accompanying medals and promotions for their valorous actions. The third member of the team, David Ettinger has stayed back as Embassy staff, following leads on a Nazi operation he has heard about. Colonel Frade, Cletus’ father, is putting the finishing touches on the planned coup d’état, titled Operation Blue.
The book literally begins with blood. On the way from his estancia to Buenos Aires, Colonel Frade is assassinated, ostensibly by bandits, but paid for by Nazis as retaliation for their replenishment vessel getting blown up, since they cannot get to his son. Enrico, who is driving the Colonel is also shot and left for dead but is only grievously injured. Cletus and Pelosi, unaware of this, are preparing to return to Argentina as diplomats to recommence their mission. Cletus receives the news of his father’s death from Colonel Graham who informs him that this changes the nature of the mission.
The purpose of sending him back to Argentina as a diplomat is to provide him with diplomatic immunity in addition to his father’s reputation as protection. But now, as an Argentine citizen, Cletus is the rightful heir of the Colonel under Argentine inheritance laws. Graham wants him to return in that capacity and use the family name to get close to the new government that will be formed after the coup. While finding out details of the new replenishment ship is important, it is secondary compared to this. Cletus agrees, and telegrams his uncle to delay the funeral till he reaches Argentina.
In Germany, the architect of the Colonel’s assassination is revealed to be SS-Standartenführer Goltz. He has been working through Gruner back in Argentina, but has the approval of everyone in the upper ranks of the Nazi hierarchy – Himmler, Bormann, von Ribbentrop, Keitel and Canaris (although Canaris has and voices out his doubts about the repercussions of such an action) – as he is also the officer overseeing the creation of escape routes and hiding places for the leaders after the war is lost; an operation euphemistically titled Phoenix. He is preparing to travel to Argentina himself to handle the operation, now that the assassination is successful and no one can link him to it.
Cletus and Goltz reach Argentina on the same day, the former by seaplane and the latter by a transatlantic Condor flight. While Goltz is received by Hans-Peter von Wachstein and Gruner, Cletus is welcomed with a full parade honor from the Argentine Cavalry, which was headed by his father and whose current Officers-in-Charge are the co-conspirators of Operation Blue. It is their way of sending a message to the Germans that they stand with the family of Colonel Frade. Cletus pays his respects at his father’s casket and then visits Enrico in the hospital. Even in his injured state, Enrico is more affected by failing in his duty to protect the Colonel than he is by his wounds. He declares that his life is now dedicated to the protection of Cletus.
Goltz has arrived as a diplomat, but the German ambassador, Gruner and First Secretary Anton von Gradny-Sawz know of his real mission and rank. Peter, who has been working with Gruner, is told of Goltz’s real rank but not the mission; the ambassador tells him of it in secret. Goltz, on the recommendation of Gruner, has Peter seconded to him for his mission.
The Condor that brings Goltz to Argentina also has Colonel Juan Domingo Peron as a passenger. An old friend of Colonel Frade, he is one of the officers involved in Operation Blue. He is also sympathetic to the Nazi cause, who he sees as waging a holy war against the “Godless Communists” and has been in Germany studying their methods in efficiency which he hopes to apply to Argentina after the coup. He takes up residence in the Colonel’s guesthouse upon arriving, where Cletus had stayed earlier.
Before the funeral, the officers involved in Operation Blue discuss their problem with the outline for the coup and the money required for it. Both were with the Colonel for safekeeping, and they wish to get it before it falls into the hands of the loyalists. Purportedly, the combination to the safe was known only by the Colonel, but the officers believe he could have entrusted it to Cletus. To this end, they also have him asked for the combination by Claudia Carzino-Carmano, the owner of the equally large neighbouring estancia, who was romantically involved with the Colonel after his wife’s death but never married (due to the Argentine inheritance laws), but she too draws a blank.
After the funeral, Cletus learns of a few things in quick succession. First, as a guest of the Duartes, Peter meets him to offer his condolences and seek his help once again. The letter his father wrote to him, which is proof of his innocence, had been with the Colonel and he wants to ensure its safety. Then Enrico, who despite his wounds has insisted on accompanying the Colonel’s funeral parade, confides that he has the combination to the safe in the estancia, and can have it opened for him. He is then met by Dorotea Mallin who informs him she is pregnant as a result of their entanglements the last time he was in Argentina.
The last two visitors, Pelosi and Ettinger, have information for him regarding their mission. Ettinger has discovered many Jews living in Argentina and Uruguay who have at some point been concentration camp inmates. He suspects there is a secret operation being run by some if not all SS, where the relatives of these inmates are able to buy their freedom and passage to South America, and is about to get to the bottom of it. Pelosi has been asked by the local FBI representative, Milton Liebermann, to have Cletus meet him that very evening for an information exchange. This is dangerous, as both Colonel Donovan and J. Edgar Hoover, the directors of the OSS and the FBI respectively, are at loggerheads and have forbidden their agents from communicating with each other.
When they meet, Milton levels with Cletus that he is not only aware of Ettinger’s investigation but also that Peter is his spy inside the German embassy, both of which he has not informed Hoover about. He proposes an unofficial liaison where they both share information with each other but decide what part of it to share with their superiors to not jeopardize their sources, which Cletus agrees to. He then departs for the estancia the next morning, wanting to reach before any of the officers or Claudia to look at the contents of the safe as well as reestablish contact with his radio team that is living there since the sinking of the replenishment ship.
Upon reaching the estancia, Cletus meets Father Kurt Welner, a Jesuit priest who has been his father’s long-time friend and confessor, and is aware of both the Colonel’s love for his son and his involvement in Operation Blue. On an impulse, Cletus confides in him about Dorotea’s pregnancy, and Welner suggests that the best way forward would be for him and Claudia to approach Dorotea’s father with the news and the marriage proposal. They can then get a waiver on the marriage banns and the customary mourning period of one year, allowing them to marry at the earliest. With that sorted, Cletus turns his attention to the safe.
Enrico opens the safe for him, and Cletus decides to keep Peter’s letter there itself while moving the outline of Operation Blue so he can read it and inform Graham of its contents. Before he can do that, though, he sees that Colonel Martin has flown down from Buenos Aires to take the outline into custody, on the orders of General Rawson who will now lead the coup. In a show of faith, Cletus hands over the file to him. Martin also introduces him to Captain Delgano who was the Colonel’s pilot while working for the BIS, and after Martin sided with the GOU, became a go-between for their communications, a role he takes up again.
Cletus then meets his radio team who give him a message from Graham that the OSS is providing him a slightly larger plane – a 6-seater Beechcraft Model 18 – to replace the Staggerwing that was shot down, which he must figure out how to get into the country from an American military post in Brazil. Second, there is a radar team he must infiltrate into the country and onto his estancia, who will be able to monitor the bay for any other vessels that try and resupply submarines. He figures out that the best way to do both is to have the radar team be present at the same military post, and he can fly them into Argentina on the plane itself. He decides to do it after the requiem mass being held for his father and radios Graham his plans.
Peter flies Goltz to Uruguay in the embassy’s Feisler Storch, where the latter meets up with Werner von Tresmark, the SS officer assisting Goltz with Operation Phoenix. Werner is also part of the other unofficial operation of which Goltz and a few other SS officers are part of – the ransoming operation Ettinger is investigating – and are lining their own pockets with. Though a homosexual, Werner has a wife, Inge, for appearance’s sake and his sexual orientation is used as a threat to keep him from disclosing the secrets he is privy to. Peter knows Inge from Berlin, where they have had a brief interlude. Starved for companionship, she seduces him and during their lovemaking accidentally lets slip the information she has of both the operations. Disgusted, Peter decides to let Cletus know of both as soon as he reaches Buenos Aires.
Cletus meanwhile approaches Delgano and Martin with the problem of getting the new airplane into Argentina, who suggest marking it with the same registration number as the earlier Staggerwing, making it the same plane for all intents. They do this in return for Cletus agreeing to put the plane at their disposal during the coup, to fly the leaders out of Argentina if it fails. Martin also informs him that the Germans have put out a hit on Ettinger for the questions he is asking. A concerned Cletus orders Ettinger to not leave the estancia before he gets back with the plane and the radar team, and requests Martin to provide security for him.
Cletus reaches the border of Argentina and Brazil where he makes contact with the leader of the radar team, Captain Ashton, who he informs of the plan to get the team and the equipment into the country. They both make their separate ways to the military post, where Cletus realizes he has a problem; the replacement plane is not simply a “slightly larger plane” but a completely different one – a Lockheed Lodestar that flies sixteen passengers and requires two pilots instead of one. He overcomes it by having a fellow Marine pilot at the base give him a few hours of flying instructions and taking off under the cover of darkness after having secreted Ashton and his team aboard.
Cletus crosses the border into Argentina and lands at an Argentine military base where Delgano is waiting for him with the news that Operation Blue has begun – the leaders having decided that waiting more would be counterproductive – and getting the plane to the command center is a priority. Once again taking a leap of faith, Cletus confides in Delgano of the presence of the radar team he needs to offload on the estancia, and Delgano agrees to keep it under wraps until the coup is over.
As Cletus is crossing into Brazil, Goltz takes Peter with him to the new replacement vessel that has entered the bay, and enlists him in the task of unloading a “special shipment” with the help of a few ethnic Germans who are Argentine citizens; he doesn’t tell him where or when the unloading will take place, only he and Gruner supposedly know that. Peter already knows, though, that the shipment is money, jewelry and precious stones stolen from the Jews that the Nazis are going to use for Operation Phoenix. Their operation, however is put on hold as the coup begins and they are confined to the embassy till its conclusion.
On reaching the command center, Cletus accepts an armband identifying him as one of the revolutionaries, but declines a temporary commission in the Argentine army as that would entail him losing his American citizenship. It is an indicator of the limits of his loyalty to the country of his birth which does not go unnoticed by Martin, and creates an unsaid boundary they both know exists and cannot be crossed. Regardless of commission, Cletus plays an important role in the coup when he flies General Rawson in a Piper Cub so he can coordinate two infantry columns who they have lost communication with, thus ensuring the success of the coup and earning the trust and respect of the President-to-be. The short but relatively bloodless coup ends with the revolutionaries victorious.
Once informed that both his presence and his plane are no longer needed, Cletus retires to his home in Buenos Aires. There, he is met by Colonel Martin who tells him that Delgano has told him of the radar team. He also tells him Ettinger managed to slip past his guards and went to Uruguay, where he was murdered, again seemingly by elements of the underworld. The second news causes Cletus to rush to his estancia so he can radio Colonel Graham, but instead finds Colonel Graham and Milton waiting for him at the estancia.
Made aware of the change in the plane model only after Cletus took off in it from Brazil, Graham decides to fly down himself for damage control. On the way, during his stopover in Montevideo, he bumps into the OSS station chief in Uruguay meeting with Milton. Milton tells him of the unofficial arrangement he has both with the OSS chief here and with Cletus in Argentina. He also tells him of the news of Ettinger’s murder. They travel back to Buenos Aires together, arriving just as the coup begins and wait it out in the American embassy. As it ends, they travel to Cletus’ estancia on the premise that it would be the best place to find him.
Upon meeting, they exchange news on Ettinger’s death as well as Cletus’ role in the coup which pleases Graham. Their talks are interrupted by the arrival of Peter who has taken advantage of the coup and gotten one of the ethnic Germans to unwittingly reveal the time and place where the “special shipment” is to be unloaded. Putting his life in danger, he travels to the estancia to apprise Cletus. His actions help Cletus with information, but also present a conundrum as he has till then refused to identify Peter as his mole to Graham; both as a matter of honor and to ensure his safety. Graham understands and accepts his reasons, agreeing to keep Peter’s identity a secret, provided nothing happens to Cletus.
Acting on the information given by Peter, Cletus dispatches a member of the radar team, along with Enrico and one more person as protection; their orders are to photograph the entire operation without revealing themselves. However, when Enrico sees that along with Peter the landing party has both Goltz and Gruner who he knows are responsible for the Colonel’s murder, he takes matters into his own hands and shoots them both, while making it look like he narrowly misses Peter. Honor satisfied, they move off as Peter and the sailors head back to the ship without having unloaded any of the “special shipment”.
The second book takes place in a narrower time frame, but with the multiple plot points occurring simultaneously has a faster paced feel than the first one. Griffin painstakingly builds up characters, giving them backstories, motives and emotions in a way that they feel real – living, breathing and relatable. As always, his blend of fact and fiction is marvelous to behold. Operation Phoenix and the ransoming of the Jews, both are real, but though there must have been someone very like him in charge, SS-Standartenführer Goltz is undoubtedly fictional. Also real is General Rawson, who did become President after the coup, and having Colonel Frade assassinated serves a dual purpose of plot advancement as well as aligning it with history while making it seem entirely plausible.
Where the first book dealt with honor as a relationship between good and evil and the duty of an honorable man, the second one explores honor that comes from protecting one’s family and redressing that honor if one fails – a very Latin / Mediterranean concept reminiscent of Mafia codes. This nuance is evident throughout the book, from the unspoken support of the Argentine army for Cletus by holding a parade to welcome him, to Enrico’s closing remarks after killing Goltz and Gruner, that both the Colonel and his sister have been avenged, and honor has been served. Blood & Honor is a worthy continuation of Honor Bound, and further draws you into Griffin’s universe.