Published by SJ Slagle on September 1st 2018
Genres: Spy Thriller Books, Thriller Books
Source: Net Galley
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Synopsis of Oslo Spies (by S.J. Slagle):
In S.J. Slagle’s Oslo Spies, Norway is a destroyed country at the end of World War II. Norway lost hundreds of teachers and religious leaders who died resisting Vidkun Quisling, the head of the Norwegian Nazi Party. Quisling’s demands for Nazi indoctrination to be taught in schools and churches forced teachers and pastors to quit their posts and work underground. Perhaps worst of all, Norwegian children were deprived of their childhoods, a most precious commodity.
It seems a horrendous assignment for Phyllis Bowden, a young woman in military intelligence assigned to the Office of the Military Attache in the American Embassy in Oslo. One night Phyllis finds a runaway child in a café bathroom one night, a little girl labeled a quisling because her Norwegian mother married a German officer.
Meanwhile the love of her life, Joe Schneider, an Mi5 agent, has disappeared in Romania while on assignment and it’s a race to find out what’s happened to him. Between nerve-wracking tasks in her job, trying to decide the fate of the little girl and being heartbroken over Joe’s disappearance, Phyllis is in for the struggle of her young life and intelligence career.
First Sentence of Oslo Spies:
Here is the first sentences of Oslo Spies by S.J. Slagle:
“‘Don’t be frightened.’
The little girl looked from her terrified mother to her father, his face reddened from strain with purple veins bulging at the temple.”
(Oslo Spies, p.1)
This is from the prologue that sets up the beginning of the mysteries.
We don’t know who any of these three people are. All we know is that the Russians are coming in from the north, the Americans from the South, with artillery shells exploding all around the family.
The father needs to run away. He needs to leave his wife and kid before the troops come to the house.
But first, he goes to retrieve a doll and gives it to the little girl.
We don’t know the significance of this event, but later in the novel this mystery will unravel and we will be awed. So what did I think of S.J. Slagle’s Oslo Spies?
My Opinion of S.J. Slagle’s Oslo Spies:
I was impressed by the setting and premise of S.J. Slagle’s Oslo Spies. However, the execution of the plot and characters left me wanting.
The genre of Oslo Spies was described as a spy thriller. However, it felt more like a romance novel with a spy setting. There was little action and no action of the sort which we would expect in a spy novel. There is a kidnapping and a rendezvous in a strange bar but the action is very light and not very intense.
The location and premise is great:
Anybody would love to read a novel about Russian and American/British spies doing spy things in Norway at the end of World War II. Attempting to recover some kind of secret item that has valuable data before other secret intelligence groups helps to build in a type of suspense and goal for the characters.
There were also many historical issues brought up that caught my attention:
- The differences of life in Norway and Sweden after World War II
- Vidkun Quisling and his role before and during the Nazi takeover of Norway in WWII
- Children and others called ‘Quislings’ due to their connections with the Nazi Party
These parts were actually interesting and made me want to keep reading.
However, despite my expectations this book was not a thriller nor a spy book. The main character (Phyllis Bowden) and her lover (Joe Schneider) are both secret agents and they do some spy things, but poorly…
- Phyllis Bowden needs to buy something from the black market
- Joe Schneider needs to go to another country and infiltrate the communist party
Yes, there is some spy things. But not what spy thriller lovers want to see.
- no fast cars
- no hot women
- no high-risk casino games
- no cool gadgets
- no brutal fights involving guns or fists
- no big explosions
There is no glamour and no high stakes.
There are no morally iffy things, no blackmail and no brush-pasts.
Although the above are spy thriller tropes, they are also the things that people who think they will read spy thriller want to see (albeit in interesting and new ways).
There is a kidnapping scene where a man (I’m not gonna spoiler it for you! haha) is captured and tortured. However, there seems to be no real danger because we know that he is going to live. The book also doesn’t show how he escaped from this torture situation. All we get is a scene change, and then an explanation that he escaped somehow?
What would have been great is if he died – completely opposite to our expectations and that would have woken us up from our slumber. Then there would have been a revenge plot with cool gadgets and brutal fights to kill the perpetrators.
Also, what would have been great was if we were given a first or third person perspective on that man and how he attempted to escape. There might have been cool gadgets and some fights with some misdirection or conspiracies that blind-sided the readers. Maybe the man becomes a double agent or was always part of the villain camp. Some kind of interesting thriller conspiracy might have pushed the intensity to another level?
But those scenes leaves us as readers merely wanting…
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If you want to hear more (about the themes and characters of Oslo Spies by S.J. Slagle), then read on! =)
S.J. Slagle writes about Justice:
So, instead of a Spy Thriller we get a kind of romance novel where the main character (Phyllis Bowden) continues to pursue justice in her own kind of way. This is the main theme written in the novel: Justice for the children and women of Norway labelled Quislings.
These quislings were just normal people who tried to survive through the war. People who cut the hair of Germans are treated as criminals and moved to jails or worse.
Also, through no fault of their own the children of these Quislings are treated harshly and persecuted by mobs in Norway even after the war finished.
This theme is a good theme to focus on especially in the context of Norway in the aftermath of the Nazi occupation.
But, the way it was handled seemed to force it down your throat:
“The beauty we see contrasts sharply with the terror we know was here for five years.”
“I know what you mean. The reports I read of bombings, people shipped off to slave labor camps and other terrors make this moment incredibly poignant.”
(Oslo Spies by S.J. Slagle)
In the beginning, the main character for some reason decides to walk around the streets of Oslo. I was thinking why is she doing that? After a long winding journey through the city with no purpose, we finally get the scene where it clicks what this novel is really about.
Phyllis sees a truck parked on the street:
“The bed of a large truck parked by the side of the street was filled with eight frightened women with shaved headS. Two women had black swastikas drawn on their foreheads and a paper sign with writing in Norwegian fluttered on a window.” (Oslo spies)
Here we get the first glimpse of Quislings and the historical significance of the nickname Quislings:
- Quislings are women and their children who collaborated with the Germans, like Vidkun Quisling.
- Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian official who tried to take over the government when the king was deposed.
And there is the foundation of the theme for the novel.
I won’t spoil the rest of the novel, but this theme ties into the beginning of the novel as well as the end.
There are some elements of a spy-like nature but truthfully the main theme is justice to the kids of quislings.
The Characters in S.J. Slagle’s Oslo Spies:
There are a few interesting characters in S.J. Slagle’s Oslo Spies.
The characters run along the lines of a romance novel, but because we know that the two main characters will have a ‘happy ending’ at the end of the novel there is no real tension or suspense.
1. The heroine of the novel is Phyllis Bowden:
“We’ll never be free of this war and all the horrors that were committed. Never. We probably haven’t learned a tenth of what happened.” (Oslo spies)
Phyllis Bowden is an American spy working for military intelligence. Her job in Norway at the end of World War II is to help rebuild the war-damaged Norway. She fights for justice for the Quislings in Norway and doesn’t do much spy stuff.
2. The second main character of Oslo Spies is
Joe Schneider is Phyllis Bowden’s main love interest. He is a British spy and works for England’s Mi5. He visits Phyllis in Norway for a short time and then heads to Romania on an assignment. Joe also doesn’t do many interesting spy things.
“In his mind, joe envisioned pretty Phyllis Bowden, all five feet, five inches of her, with curly brown hair and twinkling brown eyes.'” (Oslo spies)
Joe Schneider is Phyllis’s boyfriend which sets up the love line in the novel. But from the very start he seems to be merely a copy of Phyllis who does exactly what she wants to do:
“don’t cry sweetie, i’ll be seeing you soon. Lt. Col. Lawrence will notify you of the transport plane bringing me in. I Can’t wait to see you.
love, joe.” (Oslo spies)
As John Truby shows in his book, The Anatomy of a Story, the main protagonist (Phyllis Bowden) has the desire for their love interest (Joe Schneider). This makes Phyllis Bowden the more powerful character.
So unfortunately for Oslo Spies, Phyllis and Joe’s double-hero love story is not very interesting.
Not to say that John Truby is always right. But he has been a consultant on over 1,000 film scripts over the past three decades, so he would know a lot about screenwriting and storytelling in novels.
3. The third main character in S.J. Slagle’s Oslo Spies is John Edelland.
John Edelland is a rich Norwegian businessman who has a lot of connections within Norway’s government and political world. He meets Phyllis at a function at the American Embassy and is depicted as a rival love interest for Phyllis:
“John Edelland at your service.”
He softly pressed his lips to her hand. The officer closest to Phyllis arched an eyebrow at the cavalier gesture. (Oslo spies)
The inclusion of John Edelland creates a sort of love triangle between himself, Phyllis Bowden and Joe Schneider. However, this too isn’t executed very well.
In Oslo Spies, John Edelland isn’t shown as another suitor for Phyllis Bowden. Instead John is merely a tool used by Phyllis to achieve her goal of justice for the quislings.
Phyllis has no interest in John Edelland except for what his connections and power can do for her.
John Edelland does in fact attempt to outwardly show his interest in Phyllis Bowden, but if we read between the lines we know they never have a chance together:
“John Edelland. She’d nearly forgotten about him. So much had happened in such a short time that she hadn’t thought about him much at all. And she had a feeling he wouldn’t like that.” (Oslo spies)
It would have been so much more interesting if John Edelland and Joe Schneider really were love rivals. A rich businessman with so much power versus an English spy working for Mi5! There could have been so many nice plots running this love rival storyline. There could have been so many nice reveals to build up the suspense and wow the audience. Alas, we must find another novel to satisfy our appetite…
Oslo Spies by S.J. Slagle is an okay book.
If you want to learn more about the historical circumstances of Norway after World War II, you can read it. But in terms of spy or thriller novels there are better books out there.
I liked the interesting historical tidbits I learnt by reading Oslo Spies. For example, Quislings and Norway’s relationship with Germany during the war.
But it would have better to have just read a history book about the subject.
The book is portrayed as a spy thriller but is really a poor attempt of a romance novel with a need for justice. There are many good elements that could have been used more successfully. The concept and time period of Oslo Spies is really interesting, but the execution of the novel is not very good.
I would recommend you to search other spy thriller books if you love action and adventure.
My Rating for Oslo Spies: 2/5★
(P.S. Got any other books you want me to review? Then…)