Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Review of 'The Red Effect' Trilogy by Harvey Black

Over the last couple of weeks I've read all three of Harvey Black's books about a Soviet led invasion of West Germany in 1984, titled in sequence: 'The Red Effect; 'The Black Effect' and 'The Blue Effect'.

Readers will remember that back in the late seventies and early eighties there was a number of novels and so called 'future histories' that purported to cover this very subject: Hackett's 'Third World War' books; Coyles's 'Team Yankee'; and Ralph Peters's Red Army, to name but three. None of these works have entered the canon of great literature, but then I doubt that was ever their authors' ambition. Some were written as military-techo thrillers and at least one, Hackett's, with the aim of influencing public opinion.

What they all had in common though was that they were writing about the future, a future that has since passed, mercifully without the war they described breaking out. Of course, one of the protagonists in that war collapsed at the end of the 1980s, an event that was entirely unpredicted by the western intelligence and foreign policy community. This is a nice irony given the narrative that most of these books spell out.

Harvey Black's novels are an altogether different proposition in that he is writing about a past that never happened from the perspective of today. As such, Black has the benefit of his experience as a former British Army intelligence officer, serving in the British military mission in West Berlin, and also that of hindsight.

His books are self published, probably because such an esoteric subject (in 2014) won't find a ready mass market. This is no shame, after all, one of the advantages of e-books is that works that perhaps wouldn't see the light of day for purely commercial reasons do get published, and Black as gone a step further and published his books in hard copy. 

The disadvantages of this approach, even when done through a company that specialises in so called 'vanity publishing' , are however painfully evident. The books are riddled with errors that are simply screaming out for a professional editor and proof reader to correct. For example, characters and institutions are introduced more than once in consecutive chapters using virtually the same phrasing. There are many more, too many to list.

Secondly, this is not great literature. It barely even qualifies as airport lounge bestseller literature. Characterisation is week and one dimensional, the plot is thin and the descriptions of events repetitive and cliched.

The underlying fault with these books, one that they share with their cousins in  the 'future history' canon, is that they are not about World War Three - rather they are  about World War Two, or even the early days of World War One, fought with 1980's weapons. The future historians had a excuse in this regard, although not much of one, as the events they purported to describe lay ahead of the time they were writing in. The tendency for military bureaucracies to prepare for the last war and why they do so is well known. Black however, has no such excuse.

We now know that if fighting had to broken out in central Europe in the period in question it was much more likely to have been politically and militarily far messier than these books, and their 'future history' predecessors, describe. 

That said, there is much in Black's work that is useful to the wargamer, and that was the reason that I kept reading. Read together with Google Maps, it's possible to follow the action on the ground right down to platoon level. The reader can work out the order of battle in various encounters and zoom in and examine the ground over which these are fought. The books are replete with battalion and company level engagements involving mainly British and Soviet forces, together with a few more that feature the U.S. and West Germans.

So, if you're bent on playing out 'Cold War Gone Hot' scenarios featuring what was arguably least likely to happen in the event of direct NATO-Warsaw Pact hostilities in the 1980s, you could do worse than get hold of Black's books.

Otherwise I wouldn't bother. You won't be missing anything.


  1. I tried to approach this trilogy but I was disappointed, more or less like you. Confused storyline, messy details and not-to-good write style.

  2. I tried to approach this trilogy but I was disappointed, more or less like you. Confused storyline, messy details and not-to-good write style.