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Bill Mesce Jr.: The Defender


Crescent Blues Book Views Bantam Books (Paperback), ISBN 0-553-58428-6

Book: bill mesce, defender
In the Fall of 1944, the German Army begins the alignment of its forces in anticipation of unleashing its last desperate major offensive, later to be known as the Battle of the Bulge, to stem the tide of allied forces driving ever closer to Berlin. On November 7, the 3rd Battalion of the United State's 103rd Regiment engages German forces in an all out attempt to take the high ground on a hill, designated by the command as Hill 399, near Huertgen, Germany. In the midst of the bloody defeat of the American troops, Second Lieutenant Dominick Sisto of the 103rd seemingly engages in activities leading to his arrest under charges of disobedience, the unauthorized withdrawal of forces from battle and five additional counts. If convicted of the most serious of these charges, the death penalty applies.

In the cold and drab town of Glyditch near Edinburgh, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Voss whiles away the hours with mundane legal matters until the unexpected arrival of his close friend, Colonel Joseph Ryan of the Judge Advocate's Bureau. Ryan relays the plight of Sisto, with whom Voss has a long term relationship as friend and mentor, and asks that Voss represent Sisto in the trial proceedings. With little time to prepare and short of assistance and adequate materials, Voss must stand ready to defend his client against overwhelming evidence in a case the prosecutor calls simple and uncomplicated. "An order was given. The lieutenant said, 'No I will not obey.'"

Voss, though, begins to discover a string of actions and circumstances which leads him to a different conclusion. He posits a scenario in which Sisto acted heroically under extreme circumstances and now stands trial as a result of errors and incompetence among those in higher command positions. However, proving his theory and convincing the officers serving as the jury panel might prove an almost impossible task.

Mesce does a masterful job of making the military courtroom come alive. He constructs a very compelling story full of unyielding tension, sickening descriptions of the horror of war, and a not so subtle criticism of the politics of rank in the military. I found the story completely absorbing. I really tried to find a better way to say that I couldn't put the novel down, but as a matter of actual fact I really did find it difficult to put down. I carried it with me as I went about my daily routines reading a snippet here and there and from time to time postponing my daily routines until I finished it in record time. I guess being married to the daughter of a real JAG officer tended to bring the story a bit closer to home. I missed the first two books in the Harry Voss series of World War II adventures, so I have some catching up to do.

Clint Hunter

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