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To Play the Fox
By Frank Barnard

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To Play the Fox
By Frank Barnard
Magna Large Print Books (2009)
ISBN: 978-0-7505-3031-6
Genre: Adventure, Historical Fiction

Reviewed by Herbert White - May 4, 2009

Set against the backdrop of the Battle of El Alamein, one of the most decisive battles of World War II, To Play the Fox is a gripping and unforgettable story about two very different men, who had taken very different paths in their lives, yet who found themselves brought together by the conflict in North Africa. The two men in question are Kit Curtis and Ossie Wolf. Curtis is a RAF fighter pilot assigned to a Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) and who has been given the unenviable task of flying an unarmed Spitfire on a photo-reconnaissance mission to track the enemies movements in the days and hours leading up to the battle. Flight Lieutenant Wolf, is an American Ace who had volunteered to serve in the RAF early on in the war. He'd been fighting the Germans ever since.

Curtis and Wolf had served together in Malta, but had almost come to blows after Wolf had gunned down the survivors of a downed German Junkers 88 light bomber. They had hardly spoken since. Curtis is considered a solid, courageous pilot, one who will follow orders. Wolf on the other had, while an ace in the air, is considered to be disrespectful and disruptive on the ground. Were it not for his skills as a fighter pilot, he may well have been drummed out of the service years ago. Instead, the RAF keeps Wolf on the move, trying to find just the right place for a man of his temperament and talents. At last they find a job that only he can do, and send him to work with Holly Force. This unit consists of a group of Jews from Palestine. The members of the unit have disguised themselves as German soldiers and formed themselves into a military unit, complete with authentic weapons and uniforms, and speaking perfect German. Their job is to go behind the enemy lines and infiltrate Rommel's Afrika Korps, seeking to gather military intelligence and carrying out an important mission that will have a major bearing on the outcome of the upcoming battle.

As fate would have it, when Curtis is shot down, he falls into the hands of Wolf's counterfeit German soldiers, and the two find that they must shelve their difference and work together if Wolf and his team are to succeed. In the process, the two men come face to face with the Desert Fox.

Although To Play the Fox is a work of fiction, Frank Barnard has set the story against a very real battle, and has infused the story with enough realistic elements to make it read as if it were a narrative history of a very intriguing, and little know aspect of the Battle of El Alamein - namely the actions of the Special Interrogation Group (SIG) which is portrayed in this book by the Holly Force. The real-life SIG was mostly made-up of German-speaking Jews from British Palestine. Their main task was to perform acts of sabotage behind enemy lines and to engage in commando activities during the dessert conflicts in North Africa during the war. This is also a great novel. Barnard gives real depth to the characters of Curtis and Wolf, and the story has a solid plot line. This is a book that will delight fans of military fiction, as well as for those simply looking for an engaging and unforgettable adventure story with which to escape from reality for a few hours.

To Play the Fox can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft, the parent company of Magna Large Print Books.

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