John Rester Zodrow was a screenwriter of made-for-TV movies in the 1970s and 1980s who also authored four novels, including a WW2 thriller called The Sins of War, originally published in 1986 and currently available as a trade paperback reprint.
In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. was focused upon filling the president’s request for 70,000 warships and 100,000 tanks. U.S. manufacturers worked around the clock to make this happen — particularly in New York City. The Sins of War is based on a true story about 1942 efforts to prevent the German sinking of newly-minted U.S. warships leaving New York harbor.
The allied victory in World War 2 is now the stuff of legends, but the early days of the war were anything but smooth. The U.S. and our friends suffered Naval defeats in Guam, the Philippines, Burma, and throughout the seas. Meanwhile, ships leaving the ports along the U.S. east coast were regularly sunk by German submarines waiting offshore, killing American troops and destroying supplies en route to our soldiers overseas. It was a grim dilemma, and the U.S. Navy was stymied in their efforts to stop it.
Meanwhile, in the book, a German-American secretive organization called The Bund are quietly loyal to Hitler and sabotaging the ships under construction through acts of terrorism and arson. Someone needs to do something, or America will be neutered in our efforts to save the world.
In the novel, President Roosevelt comes up with a plan: Have the New York Mafia patrol the waterfront ports where the warships are constructed looking for any signs of German saboteurs. Rather than having the U.S. Navy negotiate this deal with the mafia, the President tasks Roman Catholic Archbishop Francis Spellman to handle the deal since the mobsters are likely all Catholic. Roosevelt dubs the plan “Operation Underworld.”
Our hero is a welder in New York named Nick Remington working to secure the metal paneling on ships bound for the war in the seas surrounding Africa. Before becoming a welder, Nick was a Catholic priest driven from the clergy in the wake of a financial scandal. Nevertheless, the Archbishop chooses Nick to be the go-between with the mob and the Navy to coordinate the protection of the ports.
Along the way, there are conflicts and cooperation with Lucky Luciano’s New York mafia, a German social club in New York serving as a counterintelligence squad for Hitler, and a sexy military lady who partners with our defrocked priest to get the job done. Trust me, it’s a wild ride.
The author wrote the novel in the style of a propulsive men’s adventure paperback with short chapters — 70 of them over 300 pages — and pulpy dialogue with limited character development. The Germans are cartoonishly-evil and the Mafia characters are all walking stereotypes. To his credit, the author did not make this a faith-based novel as the characters find themselves in graphic sexual and extremely-violent situations. The action scenes are remarkably vivid and exciting.
This paperback is so much fun to read. It’s an audacious bit of historical fiction begging for a Hollywood adaptation. The reader can’t help but want to know more about the reality surrounding the implementation of this audacious plan. It seems that the facts largely came from a 1977 non-fiction book called The Luciano Project: The Secret Wartime Collaboration of the Mafia and the U.S. Navy by Rodney Campbell.
The climactic ending was a fun series of harrowing adventure set pieces similar to something you’d read in a Doc Savage pulp story. Overall, The Sins of War was, without question, one of the finest adventure novels I’ve read this year. Highest recommendation.