Published by Minotaur Books on September 10th 2019
Genres: Spy Thriller Books, Thriller Books
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Synopsis of The Fifth Column by Andrew Gross
The Fifth Column written by Andrew Gross is a three-part spy thriller centred around the protagonist (Charles Mossman).
The first part of the story has Charles Mossman in a bar in 1939 after losing his job and having trouble with his wife. He gets drunk, nearly addicted to the booze, showing his weakness in character. But that isn’t even the worst of it.
Suddenly, a bunch of Nazi sympathisers crush into the bar and start harassing people. This is the start of Charles Mossman’s bad choices in the novel.
Instead of hiding away as any sane person would do, he goes out and starts attacking the Nazi sympathisers. But instead of hitting the Nazi sympathisers, he makes a huge terrible mistake which lands him in jail.
The second part of the Fifth Column begins two years later where Charles is released from prison and attempts to make amends with his wife and daughter.
The main conflict begins when his wife and daughter befriends a sweet Swiss couple who live next door – Trudi and Willi. Of course, his wife and daughter are incredibly happy because of the Swiss couple’s help.
But instead of being happy for them, Charles Mossman begins to sense something is not right. He starts to believe the presence of a ‘Fifth Column’ in America who are attempting to spy for the Nazi Germans.
Instead of getting closer to his estranged wife and daughter, Charles makes things worse.
Although his main motivation is to protect and get closer to his family, Charles’ subsequent actions and beliefs are at odds with his wife’s wishes.
His wife just wants to be happy – spending time with their neighbours, Trudi and Willi, and sharing in their culture. His wife also lets Trudie and Willi get closer with her daughter by letting them babysit while she is at work.
Things come to a head in the third part of the Fifth Column when Charles makes bad decisions after bad decisions.
Charles begins to take it upon himself to undercover the truth behind the Fifth Column in America and to stop them from hurting his family. In his quest, he decides that the best way to do this is to go down the rabbit hole of anti-espionage.
This leads to the usual tropes of discovering people who aren’t as they seem, and doing incredibly unrealistic things while still getting away with them unscathed.
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What I thought of Andrew Gross’s The Fifth Column
The fifth Column by Andrew Gross was marketed as the international no.1 bestseller. It was supposed by a great spy thriller set in February 1939 with Charles Mossman losing his job and discovering secret Nazi German spies in America.
It may have been tipped as a great thriller by an amazing storyteller, but I was extremely disappointed.
The story was written well, however it was not very ‘thrilling’.
The twists were not twists, and the turns were obvious with giant flashing signs telling you in advance what was going to happen.
So what ended up happening was me speed reading from the midpoint in order to get to the ‘twists’ which are what we expect in a good spy thriller.
However, I was disappointed again and again. What we were told was going to come, came exactly as stated. Therefore, nothing exciting was seen on the road to the end of the book.
The time setting of 1939 also made the twists that were to come very easy to spot. Instead of complex ideas that made you guess and think, there were simple ideas like people asking “did you move this key from where I put it?”. Or, “there’s this thing inside a box which shows what we truly are”.
What worked well in the Fifth Column by Andrew Gross:
The Fifth Column was extremely well written in terms of editing and using the general tropes that we expect inside a spy thriller.
There was also a nice differentiation in the kinds of scenes and settings that were included in the book. We could see a really nice progression between the beginning, middle and ending sections of the book.
We could also relate really well to the motivations behind Charles Mossman’s actions. Here is a father and a husband that just wants to do good for his family. He made mistakes in the past and had an alcohol addiction. But now he wants to amends and wants to spend quality time with his daughter and his wife. He just wants to be part of his family again and be happy.
But the trouble is he is not on the same page as his wife. She thinks that the Swiss couple next door are like lovable grandparents who are kind and helpful to her and her daughter. She may be correct because they do very kind things – like babysitting when she is at work, sending over Swiss cooking, and reading stories to Emma.
But Charles Mossman begins to notice things – troubling things. So he begins to dig deeper and deeper. He reveals what he finds to his wife and it troubles her.
Liz doesn’t believe him. She thinks maybe he has gone back to drinking again. Or perhaps he is just jealous of the couple next door taking his daughter’s love and affection away from him.
So she begins to withdraw from her estranged husband. She doesn’t like what she is hearing and so begins taking her daughter away and hiding her from Charles. Or course this just makes things worst. But we can believe that the motivations behind each character’s actions are true and relatable.
What didn’t work well in Andrew Gross’s the Fifth Column:
The main problem with the Fifth Column for me was that there were no red herrings given to us to create surprise or shock.
The book is supposedly a thriller with no thrills.
As readers, our predictions based on what is said in the text as well as knowledge of common tropes in the thriller genre all come true.
We think something is going to happen and later it comes true. So in the end, the Fifth Column becomes uninteresting and even boring as we look and wait for our predictions to come true again and again.
There are no surprises or misdirects to bedazzle us. So this makes me think the Fifth Column is merely a book written for a cash grab based on formulas.
There is no imagination in what is written. There is no attempt to subvert the common tropes we already know and expect.
On the front cover, we have Nelson DeMille telling us Andrew Gross is ‘a great storyteller’.
I mean he may be a good writer in using formulas and well-written sentences. But he has no imagination or drive to create a real sensation of a book.
If we think these people are spies, later they are spies. If we think this man who is acting like a good guy is instead a bad guy, it turns out to be true. If we think there is going to be a happy ending, so there’s no point in worrying about someone being kidnapped, then it too becomes true.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to see a character die when we least expect it and see the book have a massive 180 degree turn into something more sinister and overwhelming.
Compared to these expectations, the Fifth Column by Andrew Gross was very underwhelming and disappointing.
I would recommend the Fifth Column by Andrew Gross to…
Those people who just want an easy read with little to no expectations of being surprised.
The Fifth Column is a rather formulaic book with all the common tropes inserted and little imagination.
If you want a somewhat average book to read that you might enjoy then the Fifth Column is for you.
2 stars out of 5 stars.
The Fifth Column ticks the usual boxes but does little to become a top ten book in my mind.
You could easily read the book, forget about it, and move to a better book in a few days.
It is not a DNF book but it is a book I wouldn’t want to read again.
What’s next to read?
Yes, it’s a non-fiction book, but I have been very interested in World War 2 and War stories recently.
I have also read a few different books about cyberwar, hacking, and code-breaking so Marching Orders is right up my alley now.
Let’s just say I have a unique interest in history and thriller books, haha.
Stay tuned for the next book review coming soon!
See you here next time!
(P.S. Got any other books you want me to review? Then…)