REVIEW: The Flutist of Arnhem – A Story of Operation Market Garden (2021)

A graphic novel by Antonio Gil

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to read something that honored the many troops that delivered the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our way of life was not trampled over all those years ago. It wasn’t too long ago, that I had the opportunity to read both The Tankies and Teddy by Dead Reckoning. I was VERY pleased to see a comics imprint that does historical comics, seeing that I love comics and am very much into all things historical – it was a publisher that was right up my alley. When given the chance to read The Flutist of Arnhem, I jumped at it.

For me, comics like this are an amazing educational tool – I don’t have trouble reading, but sometimes I don’t want to dive headfirst into a dry history book. having these stories adapted and contextualized by some of the hottest comic writers and artists is nothing short of amazing. I can imagine those that aren’t strong readers can benefit a lot by stuff like this, as well as students. That said, for anyone reading my reviews as of late can attest to, I am somewhat bored of superhero comics, so other genres are things I am definitely digging right now.

Before reading this, I looked up some articles on the actual Operation Market Garden itself, I had heard of it prior to reading this, but was fuzzy on details. While classified as a failed operation in history books, since it didn’t create the desired invasion point through northern Germany, it did succeed in liberating a number of Dutch villages occupied by the Nazi forces. The push also stopped a number of V2 rocket launch pads, which likely saved countless lives. While this book is a fictionized account of this operation, you can tell a great deal of research went into making this as close to the real deal as possible.

“In October 1943, all the Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents in Holland are captured by the Germans . . . except one. John Hewson, a.k.a. “Boekman,” is the most dangerous agent to the German occupiers, with vital information about the German army, Boekman escapes the clutches of the S.S. and stays hidden until the start of the largest airborne operation in World War II: Operation Market Garden. When the SOE learn that Boekman is still alive, and that his estranged son, Harry, is on the ground fighting in Market Garden, Harry is tasked with organizing a small commando unit to rescue Boekman and try to escape through the German siege. The Battle of Arnhem unfolds day by day as father and son search for each other amidst the chaos of war and the dogged pursuits of a cruel Gestapo agent.”

First and foremost, Boekman is an awesome character. You can tell he’s a grizzled master spy that has seen and done all sorts of crazy things against the Nazis in order to become one of their top targets. One scene in particular, towards the beginning of the book shows him sneak attacking a German radio station – he takes guys down with a combat knife, then hides in a Nazi uniform to eventually contact his superiors. He is aided by a mysterious man named Frajle that seems to be everywhere at all times. scenes with them remind me of all sorts of spy movies you’ll see in theaters. Boekman is a bit courageous for his own good and gets wounded at one point, making a rescue mission necessary.

We find out his own son, Harry, who has no idea what or who he is trying to extract at first, ends up being one of the very men trying to get him out of the Netherlands and his secret documents into Allied hands. In a way, this ends up being a reverse finding Nemo of sorts where both Father and Son come to terms with their sadness and demons of the past to forge forward in the name of King and Country. Harry is aided by a great cast of squadmates with my personal favorite being Corporal Kolecki, a polish sabotage expert that goes deep undercover in an SS Uniform (since he speaks German) to mess with the German troops from the inside. The way he goes about his mission with a smirk and an almost suicidal abandon is both humorous and nerve-racking.

One of the many cool things about this book is that there are these little interludes within the story breaks that show background information, such as battle maps, information dumps for contest and even historical references. It reminds me a bit of how popular video games like Call of Duty (The historical ones) and Medal of Honor used to give background info in-between missions. This is a very valuable and interesting addition to the book, as a person unfamiliar with the overall history involved wouldn’t have to do additional research to understand what is happening, nor is this info piped into the characters mouths in an unnatural way like some other comics.

Perhaps my only quibble with this book is that some pages are VERY text heavy, this isn’t a bad thing, but results a bit in dialogue overload at certain points. Truthfully, I’m not sure how they author could have done this any better, so its a minor gripe. Otherwise, the art and lettering are all top notch, Gil lays everything out in a style that I haven’t seen a lot in modern comics, as a result this somewhat is structured like a classic comic. In a way its a cool idea whether the author intended it or not.

I normally end up reviewing eBooks, so it was quite the change to get a physical copy in my hands. As such, I’d like to get that in here. Without getting a tape measure out, I surmise that this is A4 size, full color and filled with thick, glossy pages. You can tell that care was made to produce a book that will stand the test of time.

Dead Reckoning hits it out of the park yet again with The Flutist of Arnhem – A Story of Operation Market Garden. I loved the story between the Hewson family, and the immense amount of information that Gil took care to place within the book. After going into this knowing only the vaguest amount of information on this operation, I feel like I learned a lot. I’d like to read more by this author, here’s hoping they publish more by him or I can figure out what publications he has worked in before. I see listings by a Spanish actor doing some internet searches, but I highly doubt that’s the same person!

Note: I received a paperback copy of this book from Dead Reckoning /Naval Institute Press in order to provide an honest review. That said, the copy I received may have not been a final copy. Thank you to all those involved.

If you would like to purchase your own copy of the book, please check HERE or HERE for Kindle