At last! After two duds in a row, I’m finally able to recommend a really good Choose Your Own Adventure book. Sabotage, the maiden effort in the series by historical fiction author Jay Leibold, is a World War II espionage adventure. You may have noticed that I have some considerable experience in dealing with World War II espionage adventures. And after taking one look at the cover of this puppy–showing leering Nazis, an exploding castle, a careening motorcycle (complete with sidecar) and a battle involving a Panzer tank, you know what I’m going to say to this: OH, HELL YEAH!
Sabotage by Jay Leibold (illustrated by Ralph Reese)
Published: November 1984
Number in the CYOA Series: 38
It is 1942, and Sabotage begins, appropriately enough, in Casablanca. “You” are some sort of secret agent working for the Allies. It’s never stated exactly who you work for, but the strong hint is that you’re French Resistance, as your superior, Colonel De Gaulle–er, I mean, De Grelle–is obviously French, as are your cohorts, Raoul and Simone. You are being sent to Germany to rescue two other Resistance agents, Jean-Paul and Marie LaRoche, from the forbidding Castle Wolfenstein–er, I mean Baderhoff Castle in Bavaria. Your arch-enemy, the Gestapo villain Herr Kruptsch, is going to try to stop you.
Okay, terrific! This is a straightforward start that sets the stakes clearly. Unfortunately the first choice is a little clunky. After leaving the briefing by De Grelle, you walk through the fog-shrouded streets of Casablanca and notice Peter Lorre–er, I mean a mysterious mousy man following you. Your first choice is whether to confront him or give him the slip. If you confront him, he tells you to come with him to his apartment. If you do, it leads to an abrupt ending, which makes this what I call a “forced choice.” If you either give Lorre the slip or refuse to go to his apartment, he fades away and you get on with your mission. The first real choice is how to get to Germany: by boat across the Mediterranean, or via a plane drop.
I groaned at this first choice, but fortunately it’s really the only part of the book with substantial problems. Both avenues into your adventure are pretty fast-paced and snappy. If you go by boat, you’re quickly attacked by a German vessel. If you drop in via air, an exciting adventure begins where you have to cross the mountains to get to Baderhoff Castle, with the Alpenkorps–German ski troops–hot on your trail. There are several more adventures once you get to the castle, and there’s seldom a dull moment.
The strength of this book is that Leibold knows exactly what a World War II spy thriller should entail, and he delivers every single piece of it, almost as if he was checking items off a list (and he probably was). The story’s setpieces are all taken from classic movies and spy novels about the era. The fog-shrouded streets of Casablanca I already mentioned. The plane drop into Germany resembles a similar device in the Richard Burton film Where Eagles Dare; the rescue from Baderhoff Castle, and its subsequent (in some endings) destruction by fire, evokes The Dirty Dozen; there’s a motorcycle chase a la Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, plus an amusing bit where you get to escape in a Panzer tank. There’s also the requisite fun with disguises (of course you have to dress up like a German officer), double-crosses (is one of your party a double agent?) and even a ski chase that wouldn’t be out of place in a James Bond film. All of it is tautly written and exciting.
It’s also fairly easy to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Most of the book’s 39 endings involve the success of your mission, in one way or another. This is a minor quibble, but perhaps there are too many endings where you “win.” Some CYOA books try to kill you at every turn, but Sabotage is pretty consistently upbeat.
Overall this is an excellent book. It’s rare to see a period adventure piece in the CYOA series, but Jay Leibold pulls it off. Ralph Reese, my favorite CYOA illustrator, also scored a hit with his exciting drawings. Fortunately the quibbles with this book are pretty minor. And hey, in this review I have an excuse to throw in a Beastie Boys song!
Grade: A minus
Next up: my first Edward Packard review in a long time, Supercomputer.