"Winter of the World" (Dutton), by Ken Follett
It's hard not to like a Ken Follett book. Even when you find flaws, they are overshadowed by a sense of engagement and even education.
Follett's newest offering is "Winter of the World," book number two in The Century Trilogy. The first was "Fall of Giants." The books tell of the world wars and other great events of the 20th century via the members of five interlinked families.
Whether it is through the young Russian intelligence officer who starts to doubt Stalin, the American socialite who drives ambulances in wartime Britain, or the young German man who falls prey to Nazi propaganda, Follett does a masterful job of capturing the highs and lows of an extraordinarily bloody time.
Follett's writing is not especially dazzling. He tends to tell, rather than show, and his attempts at describing romantic liaisons are awkward at best. But all that doesn't really matter because he is so good at plotting a story, even one that takes on such a complex topic as the World War II era.
That's what makes "Winter of the World" so hard to put down. You want to know what happens next. You don't care how it's phrased.
Of course, if the goal is to cover the major events of the 1900s, including not just wars but also sociological changes, through a mere five families, certain elements still have to be squeezed into place to make it all work.
There are an unusual number of coincidences, such as half-siblings who don't know each other working for rival governments and rival economic philosophies. There are also characters who seem random until you remember there's one more book to go, such as the black wannabe actress who tangles with the gangster's son.
Follett has said he did meticulous historical research for "Winter of the World," and it shows. Several real historical figures are depicted, though sometimes fleetingly. The book is, in a pleasant way, an educational experience.
And readers still have the pleasure of knowing there's a third novel on the way.