Fox at the Front is an alternative history, WWII thriller that takes us from the collapse of German's last Western offensive (as chronicled in the book's predecessor Fox on the Rhine) through to the end of the war. Central to the book is the idea of thoughtful, conscientious actors making decisions in the face of nothing but bad choices. As one of the main characters explains, making a good choice is easy. It's when someone must choose between several horrific alternatives that the true measure of a person can be discovered.
The overarching historical events-from Rommel's defection to the Allies (with a large chunk of the German armies), to the establishment of a German Republic separate from Nazi Germany, to the discovery of the concentration camps, to the fallout of the secret treaty between Himmler and Stalin, to the bitter-end fighting of the SS, to the inexorable advance of the Soviet legions-challenge the characters both big and small. Insights into the global vision of Roosevelt and Stalin and the regional concerns of Rommel, Patton, Himmler, and Eisenhower are balanced by sympathetic depictions of extraordinary "joe averages"-Rommel's mechanically skilled and devoted driver, an ex-Hitler Youth American intelligence officer, a battle scarred spearheading tank commander, a too-young zealous SS trooper, an up-and-coming Soviet commissar, a long-in-the-tooth AP editor turned field reporter, and many more. The actions and words of the historical characters offer interesting glimpses of their personalities while the three-dimensional portrayal of the "lesser" actors puts a human face on world-shattering events.
As a casual WWII fan, I learned many interesting things from this book. The vast resources in both men and machines of the Soviet Union emphasized just how outmatched the Germans were on the Eastern Front. So numerous were those forces that combining the Allied and German forces together still left them vastly outnumbered. This brings home the absurdity of the idea of crushing Communism after defeating the Nazis. The Western world was fortunate that Stalin decided not to press his advantage and take more of Europe in those closing days. In view of this overwhelming mismatch, Roosevelt's willingness to "give" Stalin Eastern Europe in an effort to build a lasting peace is presented as not only reasonable but perhaps the only acceptable choice available. At one point, Roosevelt expresses his faith that history would validate Western representative democracy over Soviet-style Communism. This forms a neat rationale justifying the least atrocious of otherwise nightmarish choices.
Best of all, the fascinating historical interplay is packaged in a heck of a page-turning story. It's one of the those books that a guilty glance at the lateness of the hour is excused by a little voice saying "just one more chapter."
The book left me with one major question for Niles and Dobson-What the heck is going on in the Pacific?