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Operation Vampyr
David Bishop
Black Flame, 254 pages

Operation Vampyr
David Bishop
Born and raised in New Zealand, David Bishop worked as a daily newspaper journalist before immigrating to Britain. He spent the 90s as a comics editor, first on the award-winning Judge Dredd Magazine, and then on legendary science fiction weekly 2000 AD. Since turning freelance in the year 2000, he has since written 15 novels, numerous audio dramas, comics, and non-fiction. His books include A Nightmare on Elm Street: Suffer the Children and Nikolai Dante: The Strangelove Gambit.

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A review by Nathan Brazil

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'"Human? How many humans do you know turn into ash when exposed to sunlight?" Klaus demanded. Heinrich stumbled away, back toward the Ju 87, so the pilot followed him. "When Toma's plane was hit, you know what I thought came out of the cockpit? A winged creature, like a bat. I saw the same thing attack the Rata pilot." Heinrich kept walking, so Klaus grabbed the gunner's arm and spun him around. "Listen to me. Toma and Droc, I think both of them were -"

"Don't say it." Heinrich pleaded, closing his eyes.

Operation Vampyr, subtitled 'Fiends of the Eastern Front' is the first in a new series, combining WWII military action with the supernatural. Set in 1941 it features the adventures of the brothers Vollmer, not a circus troupe but three German soldiers battling their way across Russia. The story is developed from their separate perspectives, with Ralf Vollmer in command of a Panzer tank, Klaus Vollmer a Stuka pilot and Hans Vollmer a private fresh out of basic training with the Landser, or land army. Much of the German campaign progresses in the same relentless fashion as it did in our reality, with one subtle difference. These Germans have a unique ally, the 1st Rumanian Mountain Troop. As the brothers' adventures progress and intertwine, we find out just what makes the Rumanians so feared by the retreating Russians, and so dangerous to the Fatherland. Led by a brooding figure named Hauptmann Constanta, the 1st Rumanian Mountain Troop are, more specifically, from Transylvania; home to the vampires of legend.

Lord Constanta, as he is also known, is a Dracula substitute with the full array of undead powers, plus a bit extra. Most of his band have similar abilities, to a lesser degree. This leads to scenes where the Rumanians turn into sentient mist, bats or slavering wolves. They don't like the sign of the cross, can be hurt by silver and turn to dust if struck by sunlight. Gradually, the German soldiers become aware of just what their Führer has allied them with, and that the vampires have their own agenda. The Vollmer's are the first to suspect that once the Russians are defeated, Constanta and his men will move against Germany, and anyone else who stands in their way. A new world order is what they are planning, with vampires at the top of the food chain. Klaus, Hans and Ralf decide to conspire against Constanta, and manage to assemble a sizeable fighting force, using faked orders. A trap is then set, in which it is hoped a decisive conflict will ensue.

I found this book by turns refreshing, mildly original and not quite as deep as I'd hoped it might be. It was a nice change to find a story set in WWII told from the perspective of ordinary German military personnel, rather than fanatical Nazis. The Vollmer brothers and their various supporting cast are engagingly drawn, if a little shallow, which I put down to the page count being quite low. But the author does well to cram in so much, and even finds room for a nod at Kelly's Heroes. More dramatic is a gory twist whereby a vampiric Holocaust victimises not Jews, but Russian prisoners who are being systematically bled to death in a camp run by thralls under the influence of Constanta. As the Vollmers's draw their plans, the story lurches forward more clumsily, which gave me the impression that chunks of exposition had been ripped out by an editor. Although, having said that, the author just about gets away with it by providing a betrayal slap bang in the middle of a cinematic, climactic battle scene, every bit as entertaining as Underworld Evolution.

In summary, if you like alternate history stories filled with heavy politics, and the undead as complex as Lestat, then Operation Vampyr isn't the book to buy. But, if you enjoy a bit of straightforward military action, crossed with easy to follow plots and fiendish blood-suckers, then it could be just the job. I award it six out of ten fangs.

Copyright © 2006 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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