Book Review: Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens (3/5)

8 Jul

I was a little nervous when my book club picked this one. I’d never heard of the author and it was published with a small press. The last time we had a book like this, we didn’t know who had picked it and none of us ended up liking the book. I found out early on that one of our readers had recommended it so I was reassured. I put myself in a rough place, though, because I didn’t start it until the week before our meeting and I needed a bit more time than that to finish. I made it, but with just one day to spare.

Cover Image via Goodreads

Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens

Summary from Goodreads:

In 1944 Italian officer Captain Francesco Verdi is captured by Allied forces in North Africa and shipped to a POW camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the senior POW, the ruthless Kommandant Vogel, demands that all prisoners adhere to his Nazi dictates. His life threatened, Verdi escapes from the camp and meets up with an American woman, Chiara Frangiapani, who helps him elude capture as they flee to the Lower Peninsula. By 1956 they have become Frank and Claire Green, a young married couple building a new life in postwar Detroit. When INS agent James Giannopoulos tracks them down, Frank learns that Vogel is executing men like Frank for their wartime transgressions. As a series of brutal murders rivets Detroit, Frank is caught between American justice and Nazi vengeance. In Wolf ’s Mouth, the recollections of Francesco Verdi/Frank Green give voice to the hopes, fears, and hard choices of a survivor as he strives to escape the ghosts of history.

I was nervous because I know some people like wolves and want to write a lot about them. I do not like wolves and do not want to read about them. Because I don’t read book summaries, I didn’t know how the wolf would come into play with this book. Lucky for me, it was minimal and this book highlighted a part of my state’s history I knew very little about. I had no idea there were POW camps in northern Michigan! I went on a trip through the UP (Upper Penninsula) right after reading this and the way Smolens describes it is very accurate. I can’t imagine how much more remote it must have been in the 1940s. You’d be hard pressed to escape. I found some parts of this book hard to believe, such as Vogel’s prolonged vendetta. Frank was a very flat character, too. He had to adapt to what happened around him and as such, he didn’t have too much of a personality of his own. The people around him were well drawn and likable, but I wasn’t sure what to think of him. I also had some issues with how the book was paced. It was a slow start, and then once the action started going, there was no breath. We jumped through time to get to the high action and then had to relive a lot of the skipped time in flashbacks through the beginning of the time jump. I was looking for a little more high-and-low in this one.

Besides Frank’s blank personality, the characters around him were very believable. I adored Chiara and I thought she was very brave. She was smart, too, and creative in how she made sure Frank would be safe while they were traveling. I adored the reunification with Adino at the end. It was a very well written and emotional scene, one that brought an actual tear to my eye. You don’t find friendships like that every day.

Claire was my favorite character in the story. I thought the way Frank cared for her was really sweet and I liked how strong she was when faced with such great odds. I cheered for her a lot and I was sad she didn’t make it the whole book. I think she would have been an amazing character for Frank to be growing old with.

There wasn’t much relatable in the plot to me, but the setting was very relatable. My parents have a second house in Northern Michigan and I thought about that place a lot while reading this. I also got to think of Detroit in an earlier era when it was in its heyday and overall had really positive feelings about this book’s setting. It’s clear Smolens is a native, he’s very sweet on the state and portrays it well.

John Smolens.
Image via Amazon

I thought the end was very fitting and I’m going to talk about it now so please skip ahead if you’re not interested. Anton was left with the same things Frank had when he started his life again. He was abandoned outside of Munising and had to keep away from the wild and elements in order to move on with his life. It seemed a bit odd at first, but more and more appropriate as I thought about it and in the end, I was really pleased with it.

The time jumps were disruptive to me. A lot of things were explained that I think could have been left alone. The jump skipped a lot of boring time but then that time was covered so as to avoid leaving a gap. It wasn’t a good solution to what Smolens was trying to accomplish by skipping ahead in time.

Frank has to forgive himself and be forgiven. It was easier for him to forgive himself for putting Claire in danger, for not protecting Adino, and for escaping. He struggled with being forgiven even when he asked for it because he didn’t think he’d done anything needing forgiveness. I think his inability to sympathize with Vogel in any way was a big part of his problem in this book. Vogel was drawn as so clearly evil that you couldn’t find a way to forgive him. And so Frank struggled with it his whole life.

Writer’s Takeaway: Flashbacks are very hard and I have a rather major one in my book that I’m contemplating taking out. I think I will now that I’ve read this book and seen how disruptive it can be. The flow of the story was really thrown off and I wish less had to be explained.

An enjoyable read but a few things about it really kept me from enjoying it. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Q&A with John Smolens | A Rally of Writers
“Wolf’s Mouth” by John Smolens | Book Nook Book Reviews


2 Responses to “Book Review: Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens (3/5)”

  1. carhicks July 23, 2019 at 10:12 PM #

    Wonderful review Sam. I think that I would enjoy this book, living right across the Detroit River in Windsor. I didn’t know there were POW camps in Michigan either. Too bad the characters were a bit flat and unbelievable though.


    • Sam July 24, 2019 at 8:24 AM #

      It was crazy to me to read about mid and northern Michigan in the 1940s and how different yet similar it is now. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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