Honor Bound Series Book 4: Death & Honor – W. E. B. Griffin

Death & Honor picks up from the closing events of Secret Honor. Following Korvettenkapitän Karl Boltitz’s discovery of Hans-Peter von Wachstein as the traitor in the embassy and the German Ambassador’s intercession, Peter takes Boltitz with him to meet Cletus Frade and to explain the situation to him. Arriving at Cletus’ estancia with Boltitz, Peter tells him everything. Cletus’ initial reaction is disbelief followed by anger, as he thinks Peter has endangered the entire operation by trusting Boltitz too soon and even considers having Enrico kill him. However, after interrogating Boltitz himself, he accepts that the Abwehr officer has been fully “turned” and is offering himself as another spy inside the embassy.

In Germany, Himmler is annoyed by Manfred von Deitzberg’s cavalier attitude in communicating with the Operation Phoenix principals on his own rather than consulting him first and decides to recall him to Germany. He sends Obersturmbannführer Karl Cranz to replace him and has him carry von Deitzberg’s orders than communicate them himself. Although aware of the recall, he is ordered to pretend to be unaware of them. Cranz is to travel as a Commercial Attaché (with the advantage of the diplomatic immunity it would provide) and continue with Operation Phoenix.

The Operation Phoenix principals decide to attempt unloading the “special shipment” via submarine, along with an armed guard of a dozen SS soldiers to protect it. This, they believe, will be more successful than trying to smuggle it by ship. They also direct Cranz to approach Colonel Peron and offer him a monetary cut of the vast amounts being unloaded in return for Peron providing logistical support, hiding places among those of the Army sympathetic to the Nazi cause, and Peron’s influence in deflecting any questions raised.

In Washington, Donovan approaches Graham with an assignment for his “loose cannon”, as Cletus as been dubbed, which comes straight from President Roosevelt. FDR wants him to start an airline in Argentina with surplus American aircraft. On the surface, it seems like a propaganda exercise; America demonstrating that even in the middle of war, its production capability is such that it has a surplus of civilian aircraft and can afford to sell it to those it considers allies. What is unsaid is since the airline would be started and run by Cletus, it would be an unofficial OSS asset in South America for any clandestine operations they wish to run.

Graham travels to Buenos Aires to talk to Cletus about the assignment. He agrees, but with a caveat; an undertaking of this size would entail having a board of directors made up not only of prominent Argentines, but also be watched closely the BIS and Colonel Martin. As such, any open association with or even the use of the airline for any secret OSS activities would be counterproductive and be a deal breaker. Graham, though angered by his response, sees the truth behind it and orders him to get started with the preliminaries.

In the same visit, to stress on Cletus that he is still a serving officer, Graham gives him and his entire team badges that show them to be agents of the OSS. Donovan, when first shown the badges, wants to discard them as they are in direct contradiction to the covert nature of OSS operatives, but then displaying a streak of twisted humour has Graham carry them for Cletus. To Graham’s surprise, the team readily accepts the badges, with Cletus even thinking of past scenarios where they might have been useful.

Cletus presents the airline idea to his uncle, the Managing Director of Argentina’s largest bank. Cautiously optimistic, his uncle tells him the bank might be ready to partner the venture if he can guarantee the planes. He also suggests that having Colonel Peron on the board will help Cletus cut through a lot of red tape a lot faster. Having already decided to have Claudia and Father Welner on the board, he decides to host a dinner where he can speak with everyone together and convince them of his plan. He is helped by Dorotea who knows of his OSS affiliations and is a willing accomplice.

Cranz arrives in Argentina, and as he hands over von Deitzberg’s orders plays his part to perfection, expressing surprise at the latter’s recall and indicating he knew nothing of it. He also has a second recall order for Wilhelm Frogger, the Commercial Attaché who he is supposedly the replacement for. However, after understanding the scope and time-consuming nature of Frogger’s work he decides to keep him in Argentina while he carries out his secret mission. In his usual charming manner, he also invites himself to dinner at Claudia’s estancia as a guest of Peter’s, which the latter cannot refuse as Cranz is a senior officer.

It happens to be the same dinner where Cletus plans to unveil his plans for the airline. To ensure there are no interruptions, Cletus arranges for the telephone lines to Claudia’s estancia to be out of operation; as a result, Peter cannot inform his mother-in-law of the self-invited guest. When Cletus becomes aware of this (due to his “army” of ex-cavalry gauchos who work on his estancia and patrol its vast borders) he has no choice but to give his guests an overview of his plan with a promise of more details to follow later. Cranz arrives, and Cletus puts on a masterful act of the rude and belligerent American, treating both him and Peter with thinly veiled hostility.

Claudia and Father Welner agree to his plan, and Cletus finds unexpected support from Colonel Peron, who has been approached by President Rawson with a similar idea a few days ago. After first suggesting they get the planes from Germany, Peron has been left red-faced when they refuse due to a lack of planes for their own use. With the airline approved and financed, Cletus turns to the task of locating pilots for South American Airways, as it has been christened. He isn’t surprised when Delgano, his erstwhile liaison with Colonel Martin, is “suggested” as the Chief Pilot; as he mentioned to Graham, the BIS would want to keep an eye on any venture of his.

Amid this, a new problem arises for Cletus. It begins when Milton Liebermann contacts him for a meeting. When he arrives, he isn’t alone; with him are a middle-aged couple who he introduces as the Froggers from the German embassy. When given the recall order, Herr Frogger assumes the worst; since the traitor in the embassy hasn’t been found yet, he is to be the scapegoat, to be tried and executed once he reaches Germany regardless of his innocence. In his panic, he deserts his post and along with his wife surrenders to Milton who he knows is FBI. Milton, having no place to hide them or even debrief them, brings them to Cletus in the hope that he would be able to conceal them better.

When Milton shows up, Cletus is about to fly to Buenos Aires; he has been informed that he needs to have a Commercial Pilot’s rating to fly the planes of SAA and is on his way to the examination. Entrusting the safety and concealment of the Froggers to Dorotea and his radio team, he heads over to the city, to find out that the examination is a ruse. President Rawson wishes to felicitate him for his role in the coup by signing his rating certification personally. The President also announces that the new airport being built for SAA will be named after Colonel Frade as a mark of respect. Although pleased by the gesture, his happiness is marred somewhat by Colonel Martin approaching him after the ceremony to ask if he knows anything about the Froggers’ disappearance; the German Embassy has complained officially about it. Claiming ignorance, Cletus flies back to his estancia.

Knowing he cannot keep the Froggers on his estancia for long, Cletus has them moved to another villa he owns where it would be easier to guard them. He radios Graham about the development, who asks him to take pictures of the Froggers with the latest dated newspaper and have them sent to him. Cletus also realizes during his interactions with the couple that Frau Frogger has second thoughts about fleeing and wants to go back. Her views are unchanged when informed that Cranz has had them declared traitors in absentia and ordered them killed, thinking if they go back all will be forgiven.

The importance of the pictures Graham wants Cletus to take is clear when he arrives in Brazil to take delivery of the first of the Lodestars being sold to SAA. Along with the plane, waiting for him are a radio operator Siegfried Stein who will help him in setting up state of the art radio communication channels both for the airline and for his undercover work, and then fly back with the pictures. There are also a couple of accountants that will accompany him to Argentina; ostensibly to manage the records of SAA funds but actually to track the movement of the Operation Phoenix money.

Also waiting for him in Brazil is Graham’s counterpart in the OSS who handles operations in Europe – Allen Welsh Dulles. Dulles tells Cletus that the Froggers’ only surviving son is a POW and the pictures are to be used to turn him. He also tells him he knows Peter is Galahad and that he is aware of Operation Phoenix and Operation Valkyrie, since he is in touch with one of the high-ranking conspirators – Canaris. He assures Cletus the secret of Galahad’s identity is safe with him, and they would be working together in the near future. Cletus flies back to Argentina with the Lodestars and the radios and at the airport, Gonzalo unexpectedly saves Cletus when he covers up a falsified operation of a SIGABA encoding machine in the presence of Martin and Peron.

The photographing of the Froggers is not without incident. Frau Frogger takes a vicious dislike to Stein as he is Jewish and is forced to sit for the pictures with him. Once the pictures are taken and Stein is on his way back, Cletus find another problem waiting for him. The airline insurers, Lloyd’s of London, have refused to extend the insurance and operations have temporarily halted. Cletus suspects foul play; the English have a stake in South American railways and want to extend their influence to airways once the war is over. He opts for American insurance instead, which the Lockheed Corporation agrees to provide but insists that all the pilots come to their plant in Burbank for availing American pilot ratings as a requisite.

Cletus and Gonzalo fly all the other Pilots of SAA to Burbank, where they are detained for not having visas. As they are led to a nearby hotel until the documentation can be arranged for, Cletus finds Graham and Howard Hughes waiting for him in his room. It turns out that the insurance getting cancelled was not the work of the English but of Dulles, who needed Cletus in America and decided this was the way to have him come without arousing any suspicions. Cletus was kept in the dark so that his reaction to the incident would be genuine. Howard Hughes has been involved with the OSS and with Graham since the onset of the war; he is retconned into the story as having been the one to suggest recruiting Cletus to Graham.

Now that the smokescreen is successful, the other pilots’ documentation is processed for them to obtain their ratings. Cletus flies with Graham and Hughes in the latter’s personal Constellation to the POW camp where Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm Frogger Jr. is imprisoned; he is proving difficult to turn and is the reason Dulles wants Cletus. On the way, Hughes tells him FDR has a supposedly ulterior motive for wanting SAA; he wants to punish Juan Trippe, the owner of Pan American Airways, for hiring Charles Lindbergh against his wishes (the feud between Lindbergh and FDR was legendary). He also tells him of a German named Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl; he was FDR’s friend in Harvard and an ardent supporter of Hitler, until Hitler tried to have him killed. Putzi escaped and was now in Washington, advising FDR on the dictator’s inner circle.

Upon reaching the POW camp and speaking with Lt. Colonel Frogger, Cletus realizes there is more to him than meets the eye. On a hunch, he mentions Operation Valkyrie and sees a hint of recognition before Frogger returns to his stoic self. He decides to convince him by taking him to Washington and meet Putzi, who might have more success. Putzi shows he is aware of both Valkyrie and the Manhattan Project and implores Frogger that it his is duty to help the OSS end the war if he can. Things come to a head when FDR “accidentally” drops in on the meeting, expresses confidence in Cletus’ abilities despite his multiple refusals to disclose Galahad’s identity and walks out. The combination convinces Frogger to help Cletus.

While Cletus is in America, Cranz successfully unloads the first of the “special shipments” off the submarine, along with the dozen SS guards accompanying it. With the help of a squad of Mountain Troops provided by Colonel Peron and headed by Colonel Schmidt, an ethnic German officer with Axis sympathies, the crates and the guards are safely escorted to a remote army base. Both Peter and Boltitz get roped in as lookouts during the rendezvous, but both are in the dark about the actual time and place and thus get no opportunity to inform anyone. They do, however note the presence and insignia of the Mountain Troops to share it with Cletus later.

The success of the operation gives Cranz an alternate means of killing the Froggers. He approaches Peron with lies about the Froggers being abducted by Cletus and suggests that if the Colonel were to go in person to the latter’s villa with an armed squad, the men holding them would have no choice but to hand them over. Cranz plans to have some of the SS men in that squad with orders to shoot the Froggers on sight, but Peron doesn’t know that.

Unaware of these machinations, Cletus is worrying about smuggling the younger Frogger into Argentina. He is sure that Gonzalo, with his experience in clandestine matters, would immediately notice the German. Recalling the incident at the airport, he takes a leap of faith and tells the Argentine intelligence office everything that occurred in America and asks him for help. After intense deliberation, Gonzalo agrees to help infiltrate Frogger and keep all this information from Martin for now. Frogger, now under an assumed identity of a South African named Fischer, enters Argentina successfully, but the exuberance is short lived when Cletus lands at his estancia to find a distressed Dorotea waiting for him.

Dorotea tells him of the shooting that took place at the villa. The place is almost fully destroyed with bloodstains everywhere and no sign of either the elder Froggers or of Enrico who was guarding them. Though a devastated Cletus realizes he could very possibly be arrested and tried for treason, he decides to go to Buenos Aires to protect the rest of the team. Gonzalo too, decides to cover for him to the best of his abilities. When they land at the airport they see Martin waiting for them, but aren’t expecting the second person awaiting their arrival – Enrico.

Martin informs Cletus that Peron has demanded his presence as soon as he arrives, and before they leave Enrico fills Cletus in on the details of the shooting that took place. Forewarned by a friend serving in the Mountain Troops, he was able to spirit the Froggers out of the villa and onto the estancia before the killers arrived. He also took pictures of Peron being present and departing hastily on realizing the true intent of the troops. The alert helped Enrico ambush the SS guards with troops of his own, and he photographed them with their identity cards after killing them. This is a huge boost to Cletus, who now armed with this information looks forward to the confrontation with Peron.

On the way to the Frade guesthouse, Martin and Cletus have an off-the-record conversation where Martin admits he is aware of the shooting, and Cletus tells him of Enrico’s deeds. They agree to let each other know of any more developments after the meeting with Peron. Peron reprimands Cletus for his part in hiding the Froggers and orders him to return them to the Germans, which angers him into responding that he is aware of Peron’s role in this. The enraged Colonel pulls a gun on Cletus, causing the ever-protective Enrico to level his shotgun at him. During the standoff, Cletus lets Peron know that he has pictures of him at the villa, orders him to get out of his house, and warns him that if ever there is any attempt on his or his close ones’ lives again, he will disclose Peron’s compliance with the Germans in every newspaper. Walking out, he informs Martin of the conversation.

From the fourth book on, there is a distinct shift in the writing style that is visible to the reader. This is due to two reasons; one, there is a gap of almost nine years between the release of Secret Honor (1999) and Death & Honor (2008), and two, the books are now co-authored by Griffin’s son, William E. Butterworth IV. Unlike Griffin, his son doesn’t seem to have military experience and it shows in the writing, with most of the precise descriptions of battle orders and the execution of the tactics of well-trained forces being replaced by almost over-the-top theatrics. There are also noticeable discrepancies in small details such as the code names for people changing between this and the last book with no explanation whatsoever.

There are times when the book almost feels like fan fiction; famous names like Howard Hughes, Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl and Allan Welsh Dulles are retconned into the narrative not just as peripheral characters but playing an active role, and FDR’s feud with Lindbergh is played up as the reason SAA comes into existence. In his haste to expand the Honor Bound universe, W. E. B. IV brings in too many players too fast, and barely manages to keep it from unravelling messily. The objective of Cletus’ team up to Secret Honor – keeping an eye on the “special shipments” – takes the backseat as an entirely different premise gets set up in terms of the airline. In fact, the entire submarine unloading incident in the book barely takes up a couple of chapters.

Though still reminiscent of Griffin’s crisp and tight storytelling from the earlier books, Death & Honor marks a turning point; the series from here ventures more into thriller territory than historic fiction. Also missing is the exploration of the nuances of honor that was the hallmark of the first three. Although there are a few instances like Gonzalo protecting Cletus and FDR not pressing him for Galahad’s identity, gone are the sweeping scenarios that made each book title relevant to its plot. It now only serves as a continuity medium.

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