Ordinary Heroes — Anything But Ordinary
by Reviewed by Marshall Snider
A young Army JAG officer in World War II winds up leading a combat unit at the Battle of the Bulge. Sounds unlikely — we all have seen the JAG television shows and movies (think A Few Good Men), and most of these lawyers couldn’t fire a water pistol (which aggravated Jack Nicholson to no end in that movie). But that is what happens to Lt. David Dubin in Scott Turow’s Ordinary Heroes.
Turow, who is known for his legal novels (Presumed Innocent, Burden of Proof) moves in a different direction in Ordinary Heroes, even though his protagonist is a lawyer. This tale is more about the horror of war and the intricacies of family relationships than it is about the law or legal proceedings. Turow’s skill as a writer makes this story so compelling you can’t put it down. (I read it well into the first night I picked it up, put it down only when I fell asleep, and finished it the next morning.)
David Dubin survives World War II, becomes a successful attorney and dies in 2003. While going through his dad’s papers after his death, David’s son Stewart finds some old letters from Dubin to a former fiancé. These letters reveal (to Stewart’s surprise, as his father never told him this story) that Lt. Dubin had been court-martialed near the end of the war. Stewart needs to find out what happened to his father, a man of sterling reputation, that led him to face possible execution in 1945.
Stewart’s investigation leads him to his father’s army lawyer in the court- martial, and from there to David’s journal of the events of 1945. Turow tells this story from several perspectives: the journal, the letters to the fiancé, the defense lawyer’s recollection and Stewart’s independent investigation into old army records.
Lt. Dubin is assigned to arrest Robert Martin, a major in the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA). Martin was at best insubordinate; running his own operations without the knowledge of higher command, operations that often conflicted with the Army’s more conventional strategies. At worst, Martin was a Soviet spy.
Dubin locates Martin and falls under his spell (to say nothing of the spell of Martin’s female comrade-in-arms, Gita Lodz). He investigates Martin, but can’t bring himself to arrest him. In fact, Dubin even participates in some of Martin’s commando raids (one of which interferes with an attack planned by Gen. George Patton). When other military elements arrest Martin, Dubin sets him free. This act of insubordination leads to Dubin’s court martial.
Dubin’s pursuit of Martin leads him from the courtroom into some of the fiercest combat of the war. In an effort to get to Martin before he does more damage, Dubin parachutes into Bastogne in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. The fighting makes it impossible for Dubin to search for Martin, and while Dubin hangs out at headquarters a colonel discovers that Dubin had completed infantry officer training school before he joined the JAG corps. Because of the shortage of infantry officers in this battle the colonel sends Dubin (now promoted to captain) into the fray, leading a combat unit. While Dubin at first looks forward to contributing to the war effort in such a direct way, his combat experience reveals to him the horror and folly of war and in part contributes to Dubin’s motivation in eventually releasing Martin.
Capt. Dubin not only fights in the decisive battle of the war, but he participates in the march into Germany and the liberation of a concentration camp. In addition to providing an interesting historical look at the end of the war in Europe, these exploits round out Dubin’s character, provide further insight into the man he is becoming and help us to understand further his relationship with Martin.
Stewart’s continued investigation into his father’s case not only reveals Dubin’s war experiences, but ultimately leads to revelations about himself and his family that neither Stewart nor the reader could have expected. Ordinary Heroes is not so much a legal tale as a historical novel, a war story, and an exploration into the mind of a soldier who faces events so horrific as to be beyond normal human comprehension. On top of all that it is a story about love, family and the heroism of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
Turow tells a gripping tale. After each episode the reader is compelled to turn the page to find out what happens next. As one reviewer said, this is a book to start on a Friday night.