BASIL’S WAR by Stephen Hunter

A WWII Spy Thriller

From the publisher:

A British spy goes behind enemy lines to crack a secret code in this “highly entertaining World War II espionage thriller” (Seattle Times).

Basil St. Florian is an accomplished agent in the British Army, tasked with dozens of dangerous missions for crown and country across the globe. But his current mission, going undercover in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, might be his toughest assignment yet. He will be searching for an ecclesiastic manuscript that doesn’t officially exist, one that genius professor Alan Turing believes may hold the key to a code that could prevent the death of millions and possibly even end the war.

St. Florian isn’t the classic British special agent with a stiff upper lip―he is a swashbuckling, whisky-drinking cynic and thrill-seeker who resents having to leave Vivien Leigh’s bed to set out on his crucial mission. Despite these proclivities, though, Basil’s Army superiors know he’s the best man for the job, carrying out his espionage with enough charm and quick wit to make any of his subjects lower their guards.

Action-packed and bursting with WWII-era intrigue (much of which has basis in fact), Basil’s War is a classic espionage thriller from Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, essayist, and bestselling novelist Stephen Hunter.


Stephen Hunter is a successful author with a longtime background in the literary world. His main thrust are books involving the military art of sniping. He is gifted with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of weaponry which he has used to bring his novels several steps above other books about sniping and snipers. 

This current book is a change in focus and involves the exploits of Basil St Florian in action as a spy during World War II. Basil is in the language of another day a “rake” for his many encounters with women. He is bold, daring and has a great sense of humor. He has traveled several times from his home in England into France, a country conquered by the Nazi war machine and an area that might be used as a springboard for action against Britian. He has successfully completed several missions and we meet him as he begins another.     

In certain situations books are used as keys for secret codes. That is the message to be sent is tied to a mutually known book and the words are represented by location designations used by both parties. The difficulty level is very high since the same book must be used by both senders and receivers in order to decode the message. In his latest mission Basil must travel into enemy territory find a scroll written several hundred years ago, photograph certain portions and bring these photos back in order to be used to convince Russian dictator Joseph Stalin to shift a military position in order to avoid a massacre of his soldiers.     

In the course of the mission Basil meets Alan Turing, a man that led a group of mathematicians in discovering the key to the Nazi codes used in their transmission of orders. Turing and his group actually lived and worked on breaking codes during WWII. While the codes sought by Basil are not fact, the touch of adding Turing to the plot is a good one and helps validate the action.     

The almost blasé approach Hunter takes brings down the quality of the action described and I felt leaves the reader with a “hey what happened” feeling. If it is a book by Stephen Hunter I would pick up his next novel, but possibly return to awaiting others featuring the sniping format if Basil does not pick up the pace.

5/2021 Paul Lane

BASIL’S WAR by Stephen Hunter. Mysterious Press (May 4, 2021). ISBN: 978-1613162248. 288 pages.

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