Last year I read Jack Badelaire’s WWII pulp novel COMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead and was thoroughly entertained. It was a quick read with a ton of action and full of fun, interesting characters. It also was fairly light-hearted, high-adventure type story I haven’t seen before in a WWII tale. I wrote a full review here on the blog for those interested in the first No. 3 Commando mission and also did a full Q&A with Jack for readers interested more in him personally.
But where Arrowhead was a lighter tales where readers are introduced to the cast of characters and type of missions 3 Commando will see in the series, the sequel — COMMANDO: Operation Bedlam — throws the British soldiers into the lions den. The novel starts off with a French partisan resistance cell being crushed by Johan Faust, a resistance hunter and a leader in the SS. Faust and his men capture Andre Bouchard, better known as the Butcher of Calais, and Faust has some big plans for the Butcher.
The No. 3 Commandos, led by Lt. Price and anchored by the stoic and somewhat dour Corporal Lynch, the giant Scotsman Sergeant McTeague and the rest of their unit, are sent back to France to rescue what is left of Bouchard’s resistance cell and to bring them back to England to recover and regroup. When they get there, however, it becomes obvious that they need to also go and save the Butcher of Calais from Faust and his minions. The mission goes sideways and the commandos and remaining resistance fighters will be lucky if anyone leaves France alive.
It’s a very dark story, but still in a fun, enjoyable way. War is always full of horrors and that shines a little more brightly in Bedlam than in Arrowhead. The stakes are higher, the Germans are more competent, and the deck is stacked against the commandos. When a mission goes belly up, the participants are just hoping to survive. And that plays out in this novel and in a very real way. Readers shouldn’t expect to get too attached as their favorite may or may not survive by the end of the book. Of course, that’s easier said than done considering how well Badelaire writes his characters. Sometimes you just can’t help but have a favorite.
Speaking of favorites, I was stoked to see that Sgt. McTeague got a bigger role in Bedlam. When I first read Arrowhead he quickly became one of my favorite characters. A large, strong Scotsman with a bit of a potty mouth and the fighting prowess to back it up. He’s a badass in every sense of the word and if the COMMANDO series ever gets turned into a movie, I’m pushing for Ray Stevenson to play McTeague.
Readers will also be introduced to John Robert Smythe, an English spy that goes along with the commandos, to help with their mission before blending in with the crowd and going off on his own mission. He’s a fun character, one that stands out from the very soldiery demeanor of the commandos, but is no less dangerous. He’s got the spy swag of James Bond mixed with the master of disguise of Sherlock Holmes. He’s a cool character and I hope to see more of him in subsequent novels.
And like I said in my review of Arrowhead, it’s clear that Badelaire knows his stuff, especially when it comes to WWII arms and ammunition. It’s nearly impossible to go more than a few paragraphs without the name of a gun or tank or grenade appearing. And Badelaire gives great detail in the how the firearms work and look without it being over-explanatory or dull. Nothing feels out of place, and everything feels authentic to the time. He knows his history and it shows.
I recommend this for folks who love pulp novels, especially set in World War II. It’s a quick read, full of bloody violence and gun action.