I bring you the newest book by one of my favourite writers, John Dolan.
Land of Red Mist by John Dolan
What is loyalty? What drives a person to treachery? And what do we really mean when we say we love someone?
Seeking to escape the stifling atmosphere of post-war England, the callow Edward Braddock voyages to South-East Asia to work on his uncle’s rubber plantation. But it soon becomes clear that beneath the tropical sky dangers await; and most especially in the depths of the human heart.
Set in the strife-torn Malaya of the 1950s during the end days of British rule, Land of Red Mist is a tale of yearning, folly and transformation.
“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”
John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.
He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma‘ mystery series and the ‘Children of Karma‘ mystery trilogy.
I have been checking, and I think I’ve read and reviewed most of the books John Dolan has published so far (I haven’t had a chance to catch up with his Baking Bad, supposedly a collection of notes from his diary, but I’m sure I’ll get round to it soon), and have enjoyed everything: his adventures into mythology, his peculiar and irreverent dictionary, and most of all, his two related mystery series, Time, Blood and Karma, and Children of Karma. Therefore, it is always with trepidation that I receive the news of the publication of another one of his books. I have never been disappointed yet. And I wasn’t this time either.
For those who don’t have much time, here is a summary of my review: A great historical novel set in Malaya in the final years before its independence, about a character who encompasses both, the best and the worse of British colonialism, and a good opportunity to get a taste of Dolan’s writing for those who haven’t read his two mystery series. The action of this book takes place before those, so it can function as a peculiar kind of prequel to both, although it also closes the circle and provides some answers for those that, like me, have read them all.
Those who have read Dolan’s two previous mystery series, set mostly in Thailand, will remember that in the last book of Children of Karma, Everyone Dies, David Braddock, the protagonist, is given his father’s diary upon the man’s passing. And he hesitates a great deal before reading it because their relationship was never the best. Eventually, he reads it. Well, this is that book. And, tagged at the end, we also get to read the letter Edward Braddock wrote to accompany the diary. This is a diary written a posteriori, not something Edward wrote when things were happening, and although it is written in the first-person, as it befits a diary, it is clear that some things are glossed over and some are discussed in more detail, in order to compose the narrative he wishes to pass on. It is written in chronological order, however, it does not cover the whole of Edward’s life, but rather centres around the years he spent in Malaya, with some brief mention of his childhood (to do mostly with the time when he met his uncle Seb, who plays a big part in the novel later). Edward is fascinated by his uncle and by life in the exotic colonies, compared to the boring life his father leads, always buried in formality, bureaucracy, and convention. One of his goals throughout most of the novel is to keep away from the UK, and he goes to some extremes to try to ensure that is the case, even when he knows the end of British rule is near, and the political situation in Malaya is likely to change drastically.
This is a story of a young man who is intelligent and eager to pick up the skills necessary to make a living in Malaya, always under the wing of his uncle, and he seems to pay little attention to the risks of the situation, to the life of others around him, or to the concerns his own family might have. He is a good worker (but, then, he works in a supervisory position from the beginning and takes many things for granted), but his main concern is for himself, and for trying to be in his father’s good books without having to do exactly what his father wants from him. He is confronted with issues of loyalty from the very beginning (he is supposed to spy on his uncle and make sure he doesn’t get too cozy with the guerilla fighters, as he fought during WWII with some of them against the Japanese); and he somehow manages to keep himself afloat without upsetting the status quo. He shares characteristics of both, his father and his uncle, and overall, he is more conventional than his uncle, although he loves to think of himself as an adventurous individual, and an independent thinker.
This novel has some characteristics of a coming-of-age story, as Edward learns plenty throughout the book, about himself, his feelings, and what really matters. It is also a confession and a posthumous attempt to make things right with his son. And, although late, I must admit that especially the letter, is a very touching piece of writing.
I have talked about Edward at length, and I must confess that although I was fascinated by his life, I didn’t particularly warm to him. His is a mostly utilitarian point of view, and he had to be challenged to try and see things from anybody else’s perspective. He makes some disparaging comments about his father, but sometimes he acts in the same way, and he takes many things as a given and as a right, just because he is who he is. I won’t go into a lot of detail about what happens to him later, but let’s just say his life does not remain charmed forever, and his reaction is… complicated but understandable. Seb is a fabulous character, and I kept wondering how a novel about him would be (Hint, hint!). Although we don’t learn much about Jeanne, Edward’s sister, who also decides to try life in the colonies, I became very intrigued by her. (Yes, I wouldn’t mind learning more about her either). And Yu Yan. And Elizabeth. I’d love to get her own version of the story. Because there is a marriage, but romance… Not so much. There are plenty of other characters, all seen from Edward’s perspective, some heroic, some standard, some mysterious, and some truly horrid. And, perhaps the most important character of all is Malaya. The historical background, the international political situation, the fights, the changes the world was undergoing at the time, and the turmoil, all make for a compelling story, and this is a great way to learn about that historical period and gain a good perspective of what life must have been like in the area, especially for the Europeans living in the colonies. (There are only passing glances at what life was like for the natives).
Loyalty to the family, to your friends, and to your country (what and who really deserves your loyalty) are questioned, as are family relationships, betrayal, love, and respect, colonialism and independence, romance and love, fatherhood, blame, grief, revenge…
The book flows well and the writing style suits perfectly what we imagine would be the diary of a well-educated and travelled Englishman of the period, somebody well-informed in politics (he learns about it as he grows older), convinced of his own opinions although with some moments of hesitation and self-doubt, a good observer but not given to lengthy descriptions, rather preferring to write about the impression something makes on him. He can be witty at times, although he is not as given to philosophising or turning things on their heads as his son David is. The story is told at a good pace, it flows easily, and there are enough adventures to keep us turning the pages. Towards the end, the rhythm increases, and it is harder to keep up. Although the book is not explicit in its violence (and there is no graphic sex either), there are scary moments and some violence we are direct witnesses to (and some that are narrated second-hand), so people who prefer to avoid such subjects, should stay away.
As an example of the writing, here you have Edward’s description of his father:
My father, George Nathaniel Braddock, was by contrast a pillar of the British Establishment, a ramrod-backed soldier of the state and all that it represented: traditional values, deference to legal authority, moral superiority, and an unquestioning belief in the rightness of the Anglo-Saxon cause.
In case you wonder about the title:
The presence of jungle and swamp along parts of the route made the conditions ideal for ambushes: insurgents could wait patiently for a suitable target, then afterwards evaporate into the interior “like red mist” in the words of one of my fellow soldiers.
And here, his uncle Seb, talks about Edward’s father:
“It is not blood that runs through George’s veins, Edward, but duty.”
I have mentioned the letter that accompanies the novel, and it went a long way to make me make my peace with the main character, a man who lacked self-awareness but had to face some extreme and painful events in his life, and whose final words to his son are not a self-justification, but something much more beautiful.
Having said all that, I recommend this book to anybody keen on historical fiction set in Malaya post-WWII towards the end of the British home rule, to any fans of John Dolan, and to those who would like to discover a talented writer with a flair for combining great locations, with unforgettable characters, and complex plots that will keep them thinking.
Thanks to the author for his new novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share, click, comment, and like, and never, ever stop smiling and enjoying every single minute of life. ♥
I am republishing the post about this novel because quite a few people showed their interest, but the book had been removed by the time my review was published. As I’ve been informed it is available again, and it has also changed covers, here I am sharing it again.
What follows is my original post:
I bring you an author totally new to me today, although he writes as if he was a pulp-fiction author from the forties or fifties, so, not for everyone, but a fabulous book.
“This is the noirest of noirs. Truly shocking. Almost a horror novel as much as a thriller.
“Old school. Non PC. Violent. Vicious.
“From the gut-wrenching prologue, through the pornography of war, and the cracked psyche of PTSD, author Stephen Golds never pulls a punch. Neither does his black-hearted protagonist, Scott Kelly. Yet, amidst all the blood and guts and shit and vileness, is a dream-like use of imagery and language rare in stories like this.
“And the search for the woman he loves is as brutal as the language. Tainted love!
“Now I need a lie down!”
— Tina Baker, author of Call Me Mummy.
Los Angeles, California. 1949.
Scott Kelly is a World War Two Marine veteran and mob hitman confined to a Tuberculosis sanatorium suffering from consumption, flashbacks and nightmares from his experiences of The Battle of Okinawa and a botched hit for Bugsy Siegel.
When his movie actress girlfriend disappears, he bribes his way out of the sanatorium to search for her.
What follows is a frantic search, a manic murder spree, stolen contraband, and a briefcase full of cash.
A story that stretches from the war-torn beaches of Okinawa, all the way to the playground of the rich and famous, Palm Springs, California.
An exploration into the depths of L.A crime, PTSD, and twisted love.
A semi-fictional novel based around the disappearance of Jean Spangler.
Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novels are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone (Red Dog Press) Always the Dead (Close to the Bone) Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows and the forthcoming collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand.
I thank the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.
The author, whose work I’d never read before, describes his book as a semi-fictional novel, and it is true that the details behind the disappearance of Jean Spangler shared in the novel correspond to those available in what seems to be an open case still. It is also, as many of the reviewers have said, a noir novel, a very dark one, taking us back to the pulp fiction novels of the thirties, forties, and fifties, more Mickey Spillane than Dashiell Hammet, although the obsession of the main character with Jean (his ‘twisted love’, quoting from the description) brought to mind many of the authors and the films of the period, James M. Cain included. Some readers might be more familiar with some film-noir movies based on those novels (The Postman Always Ring Twice, D.O.A, Kiss Me Deadly…) and also with some later neo-noir films (I kept thinking of Chinatown, but films adapting more recent novels set in the same period, like L.A. Confidential share in the same aesthetics and themes).
The plot seems pretty straightforward. A hitman (hoodlum, heavy, enforcer, or whatever term you prefer), Scott Kelly —seriously ill with tuberculosis and confined to a sanatorium in L.A.—, discovers that his on-and-off girlfriend (an aspiring actress, starlet, and good-time gal) has gone missing. Despite the risk to his health, he blackmails his way out of hospital and starts a desperate race against time (he becomes increasingly sick as time passes) to try to find her. A reviewer mentioned D.O.A. and there are similarities. There, the detective is fighting to try to find an antidote against a poison running through his veins before it kills him; here, Kelly is dying of his illness, that’s eating his lungs. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, he also suffers from PTSD (he fought in Okinawa during WWII, and saw pretty horrific things, as his flashbacks make only too clear, and to those experiences, he has added some recent traumas related to his work as a hitman, which only make matters worse). He follows some wrong clues and there are plenty of red herrings and incorrect information that keep making him waste more and more of the little time he has left. As it corresponds to the genre, there are plenty of nasty characters, betrayals, corrupt policemen, mafia bosses, illegal businesses (drugs), combined with memories of his past (good and bad), from his childhood in Ireland (before his family emigrated to the USA) and later in America, to the war, his marriage and divorce, his relationship with Jean, and some of his jobs for the mob. Although the story itself is fiction, many of the characters that make an appearance existed in real life and were involved (or at least were people of interest) in the case (even Kirk Douglas gets a mention).
The story is told in the first-person by Scott, and his is a very harsh, cynical, and bitter voice, although he can be lyrical and beautifully descriptive when it comes to thinking about Jean, their love story (that is not without its very dark moments), and also some of the good old times (although there aren’t many). As usual for this genre, he is sharp and articulate, although in his case this is fully justified, as he loved books and had planned to go back to school and become a writer when he returned from the war, although fate had other ideas. The chronological narrative, following Kelly’s investigation, is disrupted by detailed and beautifully descriptive (although often horrific) flashbacks of his war experience and other events, and these episodes become more and more prominent as his health deteriorates. Kelly is not a character easy to like. Quite the opposite. For me, it was a bit of a process. To begin with, we learn that he is suffering from PTSD, is very ill, and his girlfriend has disappeared, so it was inevitable to feel sorry for him. But as we get to follow him, see how he behaves and interacts with others, and get to experience more and more of his flashbacks (some that seem to put into question his own discourse and his self-perception), it becomes more and more difficult to find anything positive in him (other than his sheer determination to get to the end of his investigation). Before we reach the end, we get glimpses of a different Scott, buried deep behind his bravado and his hard exterior, but I wouldn’t go as far as to talk about redemption. I’ve never minded having a ‘bad’ character as the protagonist of a novel, as long as s/he is interesting and consistent, and Kelly fits the bill. Some of the other characters aren’t quite as complex as Kelly, although Golds always adds some details that make them memorable, and if I had to choose one of the characters as my favourite, it would have to be Rudy, the driver for a mob boss. He is, in many ways, the kind of person Kelly would have become if he hadn’t jumped in at the deep end, although… (Sorry, I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers). As for Jean… She is a bit like Laura, the protagonist of the 1944 Otto Preminger film of the same name: each person who talks about her seems to have a different opinion of her, and we get a variety of versions: harlot, loving, manipulative, talented, beautiful, disloyal, caring, greedy… She combines the two typical images of the women in film-noir, the virginal maiden, and the deadly femme-fatale. Who she really was is something left open to interpretation, as we never get to hear her own voice directly. In a way, she is a figure that resists all interpretations, at least those of the men who knew her, and, in some cases, thought they were in love with her. What made her so alluring? Was it her skill at becoming the woman each one of those men wanted or needed? Perhaps.
I’ve referred to Kelly’s narrative voice, and the writing reflects perfectly his persona. I’ve seen the novel described as ‘retro-noir’, and if one didn’t know this had been just published, it would be difficult to tell that this wasn’t written in the historical period is set in. That means the book does not adapt or adopt current p.c. standards. Quite the opposite. There are abusive epithets used to describe all races and ethnic minorities (I kept thinking about Roth’s The Human Stain and the incident that triggers that story, because yes, that is one of the words used here as well, but in this case intentionally as a slur, even if the protagonist doesn’t see it that way), there is violence galore (in the current narration but also, and much more disturbing at times, in the episodes Kelly experiences in flashback), and it’s difficult to think of a possible trigger not included in this novel (I can’t remember specific episodes of harm to animals, but, otherwise, there is domestic violence, murder, rape, children’s deaths, various forms of abuse… You name it, it’s likely to be there). So, be warned. It is by no means an easy read. On the other hand, it is very well-written. The descriptions of the flashbacks are cinematic (unfortunately, in some cases, and I think that although this would make a great movie, it would require a very strong stomach to watch it) and the author manages to make us see and feel all the experiences as if we were there (even his illness); there are some exquisite reflections and use of lyrical language at times; some insightful and wise passages; some witty and darkly humorous asides; some fantastic dialogue; there is a beautiful symmetry in the overall story, and an underlying sense of fate/karma at work, that I really liked.
I loved the ending (I’m referring to the epilogue, although the ending itself makes perfect sense as well, and it is, perhaps, even more in keeping with the genre), but I can’t say anything else without revealing too much.
I’ve selected a few fragments from the novel, although, as usual, I recommend prospective readers to check a sample to see if the writing style fits their taste (although the above warning applies here as well, because the novel jumps straight into a flashback, so there is nothing gradual about it):
Pulling a trigger on people tends to change your world view. Conversation and small talk can be difficult and seem altogether worthless when you have seen how easily the human body comes apart, how simple it is to switch someone’s lights out.
One night I sat at the dining table until the early hours of the morning, listening to the sounds of the emptiness. I realized that I had survived the war only by returning as a ghost. A deal I’d made with the devil. A ghost that haunted my own home.
I listened to the sound of her high heels as she walked down the green tiled floor to the front entrance, thinking to myself that the women who are the best at walking away are always the ones you need the most.
Dexter was the kind of guy who constantly wrote checks with his fat mouth that his weak spine couldn’t cash.
This is a great semi-fictional historical novel, retro-noir, that I recommend to anybody who loves the original noir and pulp-fiction stories (that had their heyday from the thirties to the fifties of the XX century in the United States), films, or later neo-noir reimaginings, and don’t mind the dark aspects and conventions of the genre. This is not a novel adapted to current writing practice or sensibilities, and I’d recommend caution to anybody who is looking for a light, feel-good, and politically correct reading experience. The writing and the characters are first class, and the novel pulls no punches, so if you’re ready for a memorable reading experience and are not worried about the less savoury aspects of the plot and use of language, jump right in. I intend to investigate Gold’s writing further, that’s for sure.
Thanks to the author and the publisher for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep safe and keep smiling. ♥
I’ve caught up with an author many of you felt curious about when I first reviewed one of his novels.
I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds
DO ALL SONS BECOME THEIR FATHERS?
Ben Hughes is a corrupt Boston Vice Detective and bagman for the Southie Mob.
Already desperately struggling with obsessive compulsions and memories of a traumatic childhood, his world begins to fall apart at the seams, triggered by the photograph of a missing child in the newspaper and the anniversary of his father’s death twenty years earlier.
‘I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING’ IS THE STORY OF A BAD MAN BECOMING WORSE…
Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novels are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone (Red Dog Press) Always the Dead (Close to the Bone) Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows and the forthcoming collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand
I was offered an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
I read a review Always the Dead by Stephen J. Golds a few months ago (you can check my review here), loved it, and when I shared my review on my blog quite a few people were intrigued and interested. Unfortunately, there were problems with that particular edition of the book, and it was removed from sale, but that didn’t diminish my interest and enthusiasm. Quite the opposite. Evidently, when I was given the opportunity to review a new novel by the same author, I couldn’t resist. And let me tell you, wow!
Many of my comments about the previous novel apply here as well. This novel is darker than noir, harder than hard-boiled, and the characters are true bad-asses, but they are far deeper and better drawn than most bad characters are in novels. I have said, more than once, that I don’t need the protagonist of the books I read to be good to feel engaged and to be able to root for them, and I have always had a bit of a soft spot for anti-heroes and unusual main characters. We might not like to be reminded that we all have a dark side, and that we can do bad things as well (sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not so much), but as long as the characters’ behaviour can be understood at a certain level, and we can follow their journey and understand their motivations, no matter how little I like what they do, I’m happy to read about them. In the author’s note, at the end of the book, he explains that he decided to write this book because bad characters are always the antagonists, and very often we never get to understand why they do what they do; they are simply there as a foil to test the hero, a difficulty to be overcome, and he felt they should be given a chance.
Although the main protagonist of the novel is Ben Hughes, a British man who emigrated to the US (Boston) with his mother when he was quite young, the book also tells the story of his father, William, who was in the Met police, in London, and who, like his son, had survived a war but had been badly affected by it. The action and the setting are split into two timelines, separated by twenty years, as the father’s story takes place in 1926 and the son’s in 1946, in the days coming up to the 20th anniversary of his father’s death. There are many similarities in the behaviour of the two characters (Ben is a detective working for the Boston Police Department, but he has other fairly illegal occupations, and, in fact, he uses his job as a cover for the least pleasant aspects of his personality), and violence, corruption, threats, blackmail… are ways of life for both. But while we get much more of an insight into Ben’s motivations and traumas (growing up with a father like his was incredibly tough, and we get a first-row seat into some of his experiences through his memories and flashbacks of his childhood abuse), we don’t get to know that much about William. We don’t know anything about his life before the war, although we learn about a French woman’s betrayal and about the way the war seems to have dehumanised him, as he perceives violence now as an expedient way to get whatever he wants (because at least he is using it now in his own benefit, rather than for free at the behest of others). His alcohol consumption doesn’t help matters either, and he is unrepentant.
His son, Ben, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and, as a psychiatrist and a reader, I must say I have never come across such a vivid and accurate depiction of the condition. The author explains that he feels this illness is always trivialized in popular media, and many aspects of it are never mentioned or delved upon, and he is absolutely right. I am sure many of us can bring to mind characters in books and movies who are supposed to suffer from OCD, but in most cases, it is only anecdotal, a minor hindrance, not something central to the character’s life. Although the story is told in the third person, Golds immerses us into the minds of the protagonists (we also get the point of view of some minor characters at times, but these are brief scenes, not quite as powerful or in-depth, although I particularly enjoyed meeting again a character from the other novel), and, in the case of Ben, that makes for a very uncomfortable experience. Beyond his actions (that yes, are extreme and hard, to say the least), we are locked inside a mind that is forever trying to fight repetitive thoughts (of contamination, paranoid thoughts, suspicions, guilt…), compulsions, engaging in routines (counting, repeating a poem) to guard against evil and doom, trapped by magical thinking… It is not surprising that his mind unravels as more and more of the things and people who moored him into his precarious existence fail him, and he cannot retain any sense of balance or equilibrium.
The writing style, the repetitions, the interruptions, the combination of short, sharp, and quick sentences combined with beautifully observed (even when ugly) descriptions of people and places, recreate the workings of the main character’s mind and reminded me somewhat of stream of consciousness, a writing technique often used by modernist writers. Although there is plenty of action, a plot thick with events and characters (from the lowest of the low to the highest echelons of society), this is not an easy linear read. The story follows a chronological order, alternating the chapters set in the 1920s and the 1940s, but there are many intrusions and flashbacks that can be disorienting and make the readers empathise (if not sympathise, as that is more difficult) with Ben. He is not good, as I said, and nobody could easily condone his actions, but he is trying to hold on to his soul and wants to help a child to make amends, as he wishes someone would have helped him all those years back. Even though the psychological insight into the protagonist’s psyche is one of the strongest points of the novel, the author also captures beautifully the atmosphere of both periods, the interactions between the characters, the way the gangs and tribes communicate, and the struggle for power (both inside and outside the law). I recommend people thinking of reading it to check a sample of the book, but I strongly advise giving it a good chance and not reading only a few lines, as it wouldn’t give them a fair idea of what the experience is like.
Despite my recommendation, I had to share a few lines with you:
Here, Ben describes how he feels when he sees a picture of a missing boy:
Something like a bullet in the back. A blade across the throat. A headache like a hammer blow to his skull and the start of a fever boiling underneath his clothes.
Distorted images passing through his head like the headlights of a speeding hearse down a black street.
And here, one of Ben’s routines:
He counted his steps in groups of seven. He reached the bakery in four sets. Four was an unlucky number. He turned around and walked back seven spaces, turned and walked back. Cancelling out the bad. Creating order….. He counted the steps up to her door. Twelve. Went back over two steps to make it fourteen. Two sets of seven. Felt relief.
As I had warned in my previous review, this is a novel that would fit perfectly in the publishing world of the era the main action is set in (the late 1940s), but not so much now. I had warned about possible triggers there, and here we have them all as well: brutal violence, corruption, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault… and anybody who might feel offended or upset by any of these subjects or preferring to read a book that fits into current political correctness sensibilities should be advised to stay away. This is a hard book, not without its moments of humour (very, very dark), and it deals in serious subjects, which, unfortunately, no matter how much the language we use has changed, are still present and as disturbing and ugly as ever. If you dare dig deep into the mind of a bad man and are not worried about, perhaps, getting to understand him and feel sorry for him, go on and read. Luckily, I have another one of Golds’ books waiting for me.
Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, keep reading, have as much fun as you can, and keep smiling!
I bring you the review of a boxed set today, 5 full-length novels, so, as you can imagine, it’s going to be long, so you’ve been warned. It’s a fantastic collection though, so you might want to read on.
Together for the first time: award-winners and trail-blazers. Five international women authors showcase five unforgettable novels.
Blood Rose Angel, by Liza Perrat
1348, France. A bone-sculpted angel and the woman who wears it––heretic, Devil’s servant, saint.
Despite her bastardy, Héloïse has earned respect in the French village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for her midwifery and healing skills. Then the Black Death sweeps into France.
Hidden, by Linda Gillard A birth. A death. Hidden for a hundred years.
1917.“Lady, fiancé killed, will gladly marry officer totally blinded or otherwise incapacitated by the war.” When Miranda Norton inherits Myddleton Mote and its art collection she is haunted by the dark secrets of a woman imprisoned in a reckless marriage.
The Chase, by Lorna Fergusson The past will hunt you down.
Gerald Feldwick tells his wife Netty that in France they can put the past behind them. Alone in an old house, deep in the woods of the Dordogne, Netty is not so sure.
Netty is right.
The Chalky Sea, by Clare Flynn July 1940. When bombs fall, the world changes for two troubled people.
Gwen knows her husband might die in the field but thought her sleepy English seaside town was safe. Amid horror and loss, she meets Jim Armstrong, a soldier far from the cosy life of his Ontario farm. Can war also bring salvation?
Coffee and Vodka, by Helena Halme Eeva doesn’t want to remember, but in Finland she must face her past.
‘In Stockholm, everything is bigger and better.’ Her Pappa’s hopes for a better life in another country adjust to the harsh reality but one night, Eeva’s world falls apart. Thirty years later, Eeva needs to know what happened.
Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.
Several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.
Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in the historical “The Bone Angel” series set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution. The second in the series, Wolfsangel, set during the WWII German Occupation of France, was published in October, 2013. The third in the series, Blood Rose Angel, set during the 14th century Black Plague years was published in November, 2015.
The Silent Kookaburra, a domestic noir, psychological suspense novel set in 1970s Australia, was published in November, 2016. The second in this Australian family drama series, The Swooping Magpie, was published in October, 2018. The third in this series, The Lost Blackbird, was published in August, 2020.
Friends & Other Strangers is a collection of award-winning short stories from Downunder.
Liza is available for virtual book club visits (via Skype) upon request.
Linda Gillard lives in North Lanarkshire, Scotland. She’s the author of nine novels, including STAR GAZING (Piatkus), shortlisted in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and The Robin Jenkins Literary Award for writing that promotes the Scottish landscape.
Linda’s fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller. It was selected by Amazon as one of their Top Ten Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category.
In 2019 Amazon’s Lake Union imprint re-published THE TRYSTING TREE as THE MEMORY TREE and it became a #1 Kindle bestseller.
Lorna Fergusson was born in Scotland and lives in Oxford with her husband and two sons. She runs Fictionfire Literary Consultancy and for many years has also taught creative writing, including at the University of Winchester’s Writers’ Festival and for Oxford University’s Department of Continuing Education’s various writing programmes. Her novel ‘The Chase’ was originally published by Bloomsbury and is now republished by Fictionfire Press on Kindle and as a paperback. Her stories have won an Ian St James Award, been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. Her chapter on Pre-writing appears in ‘Studying Creative Writing’, published by The Professional and Higher Partnership. Her story, ‘Reputation’, a finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s short story prize 2012, appears in the e-anthology ‘The Beggar at the Gate’. She is working on a collection of historical stories and a novel, the opening of which won Words with Jam Magazine’s First Page competition in 2014. Also in 2014, she won the Historical Novel Society’s London 2014 Short Story Award with her story ‘Salt’, which now appears in the Historical Novel Society’s anthology ‘Distant Echoes’.
Historical novelist Clare Flynn is a former global marketing director and business owner. She now lives in Eastbourne on the south coast of England and most of her time these days is spent writing her novels – when she’s not gazing out of her windows at the sea.
Clare is the author of twelve novels and a short story collection. Her books deal with displacement – her characters are wrenched away from their comfortable existences and forced to face new challenges – often in outposts of an empire which largely disappeared after WW2.
Her latest novel, A Painter in Penang, was published on 6th October 2020. It is set in Malaysia in 1948 during the Malayan Emergency.
Clare’s novels often feature places she knows well and she does extensive research to build the period and geographic flavour of her books. A Greater World – 1920s Australia; Kurinji Flowers – pre-Independence India; Letters from a Patchwork Quilt – nineteenth century industrial England and the USA; The Green Ribbons – the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century in rural England, The Chalky Sea – World War II England (and Canada) and its sequels The Alien Corn and The Frozen River – post WW2 Canada. She has also published a collection of short stories – both historical and contemporary, A Fine Pair of Shoes and Other Stories.
Fluent in Italian, she loves spending time in Italy. In her spare time she likes to quilt, paint and travel as often and as widely as possible. She is an active member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelists Association, The Society of Authors, and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Get a free copy of Clare’s exclusive short story collection, A Fine Pair of Shoes, at www.clareflynn.co.uk
Helena writes Nordic fiction with a hint of both Romance and Noir. Her latest series, Love on the Island, is set on the quirky and serenely beautiful Åland Islands filled with tourists in the summer and covered by snow and ice in winter.
Prize-winning author, former BBC journalist, bookseller, and magazine editor, Helena Halme holds an MSc in Marketing and an MA in Creative Writing. Full-time author and self-publishing coach, Helena also acts as Nordic Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors and has published twelve Nordic fiction titles and three nonfiction books.
Apart from writing stories, Helena is addicted to Nordic Noir and dances to Abba songs when nobody’s watching.
You can find more about Helena and her books on www.helenahalme.com, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/HelenaHalmeAuthor/), Twitter (@helenahalme) and Instagram (@helenahalme)
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the authors for this opportunity.
I am known for my long reviews, but I’ll try to provide brief reviews for each one of the novels that compose the boxed set, which comes with my highest recommendation.
Blood Rose Angel, by Liza Perrat.
I read and reviewed this novel in full a while back, and you can read my original review, here.
For the sake of briefness, I include few paragraphs below:
This is the third novel in the series The Bone Angel.We are in Lucie-sur-Vionne, France, 1348. The whole series is set in the same location and follows the characters of the female line of a family who are linked by their midwifery skills (or wish to care for others) and by the passing of a talisman, the bone angel of the title. All the women of the series feel a strange connection to this angel (whose story/legend we hear, first- hand, in this book) and to each other, although this novel is, so far, the one set further back in the past, and at a very momentous time (like all the others). The Black Death decimated a large part of the world population and this novel offers us the perspective of the people who lived through it and survived to tell the tale.
Midwife Héloïse is the main character, a strong woman, dedicated and caring, who has had a troubled and difficult childhood, and whose vocation gets her into plenty of difficulties.
The novel’s plot is fascinating and as good as any historical fiction I have read. History and fiction blend seamlessly to create a story that is gripping, emotionally satisfying, and informative. Even when we might guess some of the twists and turns, they are well-resolved, and the ending is satisfying. The life of the villagers is well observed, as is the relationship between the different classes, the politics of the era, the role of religion, the power held by nobles and the church, the hypocrisy, superstition, and prejudice, and the social mores and roles of the different genders. The descriptions of the houses, clothing, medical and midwifery procedures, and the everyday life are detailed enough to make us feel immersed in the era without slowing down the plot, that is a page turner in its own right. I particularly enjoyed the sense of community (strongly dominated by women) and the optimism that permeates the novel, showing the strength of the human spirit even in the hardest of circumstances. The author includes a glossary at the end that explains the words no longer in use that appear in the novel and also provides background information on the Black Death and the historical figures that grace its pages. Although it is evident that the book involved a great deal of research, this is flawlessly weaved into the story and adds to the feeling of authenticity.
Although part of a series, the novel can be read as a stand alone (although I recommend the rest as well).
Another great novel by Liza Perrat and one of my favourites. I will not forget it in a hurry and I hope to keep reading more novels by the author. I recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the era, the Black Death, and medical techniques of the time, readers of women’s fiction, and anybody looking for great characters and a writer to follow.
Hidden, by Linda Gillard
This is the first novel I read by Linda Gillard, and, to save you time, in case you’re in a hurry, I can tell you I’ve added her name to my list of authors to watch out for.
This historical novel is also a dual-time story, combining a contemporary chronological timeline (set in 2018) following Miranda Norton, a woman who inherits a beautiful building from a famous father she never knew, and decides to move in with her whole family (her mother, her adult pregnant daughter and son-in-law and her twin teenage sons) to make ends meet, and the story of a previous owner, Esme Howard, a painter whose family had lived in the house for generations, who after several losses during the Great War, makes a decision that will have drastic consequences for all involved. Her story takes place from 1917 until the very end of the war, and there are all kinds of links and connections between the two stories, and even a touch of the paranormal.
Myddleton Mote, the property that links both time periods and sets of characters, becomes a protagonist in its own right, and there is something of the Gothic romance in the story, with multitudes of secrets, forbidden love stories, people being kept prisoner, losses and bereavements, hidden rooms, mysterious findings, rumours and disappearances, heroes and villains, some unexplained events (a ghost, perhaps), and even a moat. These are not the only themes touched upon by the novel. Women in abusive relationships take a central role in both stories, but there is also plenty of information about life during WWI, shell shock and the experience of returning soldiers, the world of art, especially for female painters, and also the feelings of grief, guilt, and sacrifice. It is a grand melodrama, and there are moments that are very sad and emotional, although the novel also contains its light and happy moments.
The story is divided up in three parts: the first and the third one are told in the first person by Miranda, and the second one narrates the story of Esme in the third person, although the narration moves between the different characters, giving readers a chance to become better acquainted not only with what happens, but also with the feelings and state of mind of the main characters (Esme; Guy, her husband; and Dr Brodie; although we also get to follow some of the others, like wonderful Hanna, the maid who plays a fundamental part in the story). Part one and two also contain fragments of Esme’s narrative, in the first person, of her own story. That means that when we read part 2, we already have some inklings as to what has been going on, but we get the whole story ahead of Miranda, and everything fits into place.
I don’t want to go on and on, so I’ll just try and summarise. I loved the story. Some of the high points for me were: the relationships in Miranda’s extended family, and how well the different generations get on; the way the author handles the experience of domestic abuse/violence, including fascinating comparisons and parallels between the circumstances of two women separated by 100 years; the descriptions of London and the UK during WWI and the experiences of the people in the home front; shell-shock and how it affected soldiers during the war; I loved the descriptions of Esme’s creative process, her inspiration, and her paintings (which I could see in my mind’s eye), and also the true story of Baroque Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi (which I am fascinated by), a woman deserving of much more attention than she has been given so far. I also enjoyed the mystery side of things and trying to piece the details of the story together, although, for me, Esme’s story, the house, and Miranda’s family were the winners.
I have mentioned the abuse the female characters suffer, and although this is mostly mental, it should come with a warning, as it is horrifying at times. Some of the descriptions of the experiences during the war are harrowing as well, and there is also illness to contend with. Notwithstanding that, I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. Any readers who love historical fiction set in the early XX century, particularly during WWI, in the UK, who are keen on mysterious houses, a good love story, and prefer stories told (mostly) from a female perspective, should check this one. Oh, and the ending is… as close to perfect as anyone could wish.
The Chase, by Lorna Fergusson
As was the case with the previous novel, Fergusson is a new author to me, although she is well known, especially for her short stories, and, in fact, this novel had been published by Bloomsbury years ago. That goes some way to explain why, although the structure of the book seemed to alternate between chapters set in different historical periods (from prehistory until WWII), and those telling the chronological story of a couple of Brits expats who move to France (to the Dordogne, the Périgord) trying to leave their tragic past behind, the main story is set in 1989 and at times it gives one pause to think how different things are today from that near past (many of the events and some of the storylines would be completely changed by the simple introduction of a mobile phone or the internet).
This novel will delight readers who love detailed descriptions of places, local culture, and food and drink, especially those who know or are thinking of visiting la Dordogne. Fergusson has a beautiful turn of phrase and manages to seamlessly incorporate some buildings and locations fruit of her imagination into the real landscape of the region, so effectively that I am sure those who have visited will wonder if they have missed some of the attractions as they read the book. Le Sanglier, the house Gerald Feldwick falls in love with and buys, in particular, is a great creation, and as we see the house mostly from (Annette) Netty’s point of view, we get a very strong sense of claustrophobia, of hidden and dark secrets that can blow-up at any minute, and of a malignant force at work, undermining her efforts to settle and forget (although she does not really want to forget, only to remember with less pain).
The author also manages to create a totally plausible community in the area, consisting mostly of expats, but also of some local farmers and even an aristocrat, and their interactions and the complex relationship between them add depth to the novel. Although the newcomers, the Feldwick, might appear ill-suited to the area, and we don’t get to know their reasons for the move until the story is quite advanced, the network of relationships established since their arrival has a profound impact on their lives.
This is a novel where the historical aspect is less evident than in the previous two, and it might not appear evident at first, although, eventually, the historical fragments (narrated in the third-person —like the rest of the novel— from the point of view of a big variety of characters from the various eras) fall into place and readers discover what links them to the story. Secrets from the present and the past coalesce and the influence of the region and its past inhabitants on the present come full circle.
The psychological portrayal of the main characters is powerful as well. Although I didn’t particularly warm up to any of them (it’s impossible not to feel for Netty, whose tragic loss and unresolved bereavement make her easy to sympathise with, but her behaviour and prejudices didn’t do much to endear her to me, personally. Gerald is less likeable, especially as we see him, most of the time, from Netty’s perspective, but the fragments narrated from his point of view make him more understandable, if not truly nice or appealing; and we only get to see the rest of character’s from the main protagonists’ perspectives), the fact that they all had positive and negative aspects to their personalities, the way they behaved and reacted to each other and to their plight (sometimes in a selfish way, sometimes irrationally, sometimes totally blinded to the world around them, sometimes obsessed, overbearing, and/or abusive…), gave them humanity and made them more rounded. These were not superheroes or insightful and virtuous individuals, perfect in every way, and although by the end of the story they’ve suffered heartbreak, disappointments, and have been forced to confront their worst fears, this is not a story where, as if by magic, they are totally enlightened and all their problems have disappeared. The ending is left quite open, and although some aspects of the story are resolved (in a brilliant way, in my opinion), others are left to our imagination.
I want to avoid spoilers, but I wanted to include any warnings and extra comments. The main storyline is likely to upset readers, especially those who have suffered tragic family losses recently, and I know the death of very young characters is a particularly difficult topic for many. There are also some scenes of violence and death of animals (it is not called The Chase for nothing), battles and death of adults as well (in the historical chapters), and an off-the-page rape scene. There are other sex scenes, but these are not very explicit either. There are some elements that might fall into the paranormal category, although other interpretations are also possible. On the other hand, I have mentioned the interest the novel has for people who have visited the Dordogne or would like to visit in the future; readers who are interested in embroidery, mythology, and history of the region will also have a field day; its treatment of bereavement is interesting and compelling; and I think all those elements would make it ideal for book clubs, as there is plenty to discuss and think about.
A complex and beautifully written story that is likely to get everybody siding with one of the main characters, and a great option for those who love to travel without leaving their armchairs.
The Chalky Sea, by Clare Flynn
Clare Flynn is a favourite author of many readers, and although this was the first of her novels I’ve read and reviewed, I am not surprised, as she is a fine writer, who combines a strong sense of place and historical detail (WWII, especially the home front experience in the UK, particularly in Eastbourne, East Sussex, a seaside resort in the South of England that was heavily bombed during the war), with characters who undergo many trials and challenges, remain strongly anchored in the era, and whose innermost thoughts and motivations we get to understand (even when we might have very little in common with them or their opinions and feelings).
The two main protagonists, Gwen and Jim, are totally different: Gwen is an upper-middle-class British woman, well-educated, married, who enjoys volunteering and helping out, but whose life is far from fulfilled, as she never had children, her husband spends long periods of time away, and that gets even worse when the war starts. Jim is a young Canadian farmer, engaged to be married and happy with his lot when we meet him (although feeling somewhat guilty for not enlisting), whose life takes a sudden turn for the worse, and ends up enlisting and being sent to England. Although initially their stories only seem to have in common the fact that the action takes place during WWII, most readers will suspect that the characters are meant to meet at some point. I don’t want to spoil the reading experience for anybody, but let’s say both of them meet in Eastbourne in the latter part of the war, and they help each other understand their experiences, and be ready for life after the war. Gwen has experienced many losses from a very young age and has never been encouraged to express herself or talk about her feelings, afraid that her love could be a curse to anybody she met. Jim is presented as kind and patient (sometimes unbelievably so), but despite his good qualities he is betrayed and abandoned repeatedly and doesn’t trust his own feelings anymore. There are many secondary characters that add a touch of realism and variety to the novel (some good, some bad, some mean, some somewhere in-between), and I particularly enjoyed the details about the home front realities during WWII, the tasks women engaged in (Gwen gets to play a bigger part in the war effort than she expected), and the descriptions of Eastbourne, as I lived there for a while and the level of detail made the story feel much closer and realistic.
The story is narrated in the third person, from the points of view of the two main characters, and the author writes beautifully about places and emotions, without getting lost in overdrawn descriptions or sidetracked by titbits of real information. The novel touches on many subjects beyond WWII: there are several love stories, legally sanctioned and not; the nature of family relationships; morality and what was considered ‘proper’ behaviour and the changes those concepts underwent due to the war; women’s work opportunities, their roles, and how they broadened during the war; prejudice and social class; the Canadian contribution to the UK war effort; miscarriages/abortions and their effects on women; childless marriages; the loss of a sibling; was destruction and loss of human lives… Some of them are dealt with in more detail than others, but I am sure most readers will find plenty of food for thought in these pages.
Although this is the first novel in a series, I found the ending extremely fitting and satisfying (quite neat, but I’m not complaining)! And, of course, those who want to know more will be happy to hear that there are two more books to deep into as soon as they’ve finished reading this one.
A great option for lovers of historical fiction set during WWII in the UK, particularly those with a keen interest in the home front. A novel that reminded me of Brief Encounter, with some touches of Graham Greene as well. Also recommended to Flynn’s many fans.
Coffee and Vodka, by Helena Halme
Both the author and the setting of part of the story were completely new to me. Nordic crime novels have become quite popular, and I have read some, and also watched some series set in the area (mostly Sweden and Denmark), but had never come across any Finnish literature, so I was quite intrigued by the last novel in the boxset.
This is another story set in the recent past, but in contrast with many of the other texts in this volume, it is a pretty personal one. The story is told in the first person by Evva, and the timeline is split up into two. One half of the story takes place in 1974, when Evva is only a teenager and her family migrates from Finland to Sweden; and the other half takes place thirty years later, in 2004, when she is in her early forties and has to go back to Finland (not having been there even for a visit in the meantime) because her beloved grandmother is dying. The chapters in the two timelines alternate (although sometimes we might read several chapters from the same era without interruption), building up to create a clear picture of what life was like before, and how things have moved on. This is another one of those novels that I sometimes call an adult coming-of-age story, although in this case, we have both. We see Evva as a young child having to face a traumatic move, leaving her friends and her grandmother behind and having to start again in a new country, having to learn a new language, and having to face a degree of prejudice, although that is far from the worse of her experience, as things at home are not good either, and the situation keeps getting worse. And then, in 2004, Evva discovers that some of her beliefs and her version of events might not be accurate, and that much information about her family has been kept hidden from her. Everybody seems to have tried to protect her from the truth, although she realises she has also contributed to this by refusing to face up to things and continuing to behave like a naive teenager, both with her close family and in her personal life.
The author captures well the era and the teenager’s feelings and voice, and although I have never visited Finland or Sweden, I got a strong sense of how living there might be. She also manages to structure the novel in such a way that we get to know and understand Evva (young Evva is much easier to empathise with than older Evva, although I liked the way she develops and grows during the novel) whilst getting a strong suspicion that she is missing a lot of the facts, and the two timelines converge to provide us a reveal that is not surprising for this kind of stories, but it is well done and beautifully observed and written. I particularly appreciated the understated tone of the funeral and the conversations between the family members, and the fact that despite their emotions, they all behaved like the grown-ups they are.
There are harsh moments, and although those take place mostly off the page, readers who prefer to totally avoid the subject of domestic violence should be warned.
I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a well-written family drama, especially those interested in new settings and Nordic literature, those who love stories set in the 1970s, and anybody who enjoys dual timelines, coming-of-age stories, and beautifully observed characters.
Thanks to Rosie and the authors for this wonderful collection, thanks to all of you for reading (especially today!), keep reading, reviewing, smiling, and above all, keep safe.
I bring you a book that appealed to me for a variety of reasons. I hope you find it interesting as well.
Battle of Britain Broadcaster: Charles Gardner, Radio Pioneer and WWII Pilot by Robert Gardner
In 1936 Charles Gardner joined the BBC as a sub-editor in its news department. Shortly afterwards, he was joined by Richard Dimbleby and together they became the very first BBC news correspondents. They covered everything from shipwrecks to fires, floods to air raid precautions and, in Garner’s’ case, new aircraft. Their exploits became legendary and they laid down the first principles of news broadcasting – of integrity and impartiality – still followed today. With the outbreak of war Charles Gardner became one of the first BBC war correspondents and was posted to France to cover the RAF’s AASF (Advanced Air Strike Force). He made numerous broadcasts interviewing many fighter pilots after engagements with the Germans and recalling stories of raids, bomb attacks and eventually the Blitzkrieg when they all were evacuated from France. When he got home he wrote a book AASF which was one of the first books on the Second World War to be published. In late 1940 he was commissioned in the RAF as a pilot and flew Catalina flying boats of Coastal Command. After support missions over the Atlantic protecting supply convoys from America, his squadron was deployed to Ceylon which was under threat from the Japanese navy. Gardner was at the controls when he was the first to sight the Japanese fleet and report back its position. Gardner was later recruited by Lord Mountbatten, to help report the exploits of the British 14th Army in Burma. He both broadcast and filed countless reports of their astonishing bravery in beating the Japanese in jungle conditions and monsoon weather. After the war, Gardner became the BBC air correspondent from 1946-1953. As such, he became known as The Voice of the Air,’ witnessing and recording the greatest days in British aviation history. But Perhaps he will best be remembered for his 1940 eye-witness account of an air battle over the English Channel when German dive bombers unsuccessfully attacked a British convoy but were driven off by RAF fighters. At the time it caused a national controversy. Some complained about his commentary being like a football match,’ and not an air battle where men’s lives were at stake. That broadcast is still played frequently today.
Robert Gardner, Charles Gardner’s son, worked as a journalist for four years before moving into public relations with the British Aircraft Corporation becoming Head of Publicity and later Vice President of British Aerospace and BAE Systems. He is the author of From Bouncing Bombs to Concorde – The Authorised Biography of Sir George Edwards. Robert Gardner, who is now retired, was appointed MBE in 2001.
I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback review copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
What initially intrigued me about this book was the mention of Charles Gardner’s career as a broadcaster for the BBC. I am a fan of radio and as a volunteer at local radio stations for the last few years (first on Penistone FM, in the UK, and now on Sants 3 Ràdio, here in Barcelona), I wanted to read about an important pioneer’s experiences. When I read more about Gardner and his career, both with the BBC and also as a pilot and collaborator with the British Aircraft Corporation, I wanted to know more.
This is a book, written by the son of the protagonist, and as such, it has the virtue of including plenty of personal details and memories that are not easily available anywhere else. Charles Gardner wrote and published books about WWII and about aviation and aircraft, and we have access to many of his broadcasts and articles —and there are excerpts of those in the book as well— but the author has had privileged access to materials such as notebooks, letters, and also, of course, to stories he heard first-hand and lived, and that makes this a much rarer opportunity for those interested in the story of this pioneer, a man who loved the news, journalism, and also planes and flying, to the point that he decided to learn to fly and that would influence his later career in the BBC and also his time in WWII.
This book highlights some events, like Gardner’s life broadcasting of an air-battle between British and German planes in 1940 (a first, and somewhat controversial broadcasting), his friendships (Richard Dimbleby, New Zealand pilot ‘Cobber’ Kain, with Sir George Edwards, his connection to Lord Mountbatten…), his time broadcasting in France and following the RAF before enlisting as a pilot and being involved in actions in Europe and later in East Asia (Ceylon and Burma)… There is also content about his return to the BBC after the war and a chapter about a royal secret and Gardner’s involvement in it (and yes, it concerns Elizabeth, a princess then, and Philip, her future husband. Yes, romance is involved as well). I loved the details about the beginning of Gardner’s journalistic career at the Nuneaton Tribune and the Leicester Mercury and also the account of the first years with the BBC, that reminded me very much of what is like to report on local news: you might be covering an anniversary even today, the opening of a new facility tomorrow, and interviewing some local celebrity the next day. The difficulties he and Richard Dimbleby had trying to broadcast from France and getting access to a broadcasting vehicle highlights how different things were (we were not all connected then), and I loved the inclusion of snippets of how the family was experiencing the same events (his wife and his growing number of children moved a number of times to follow him during the war, and those stories make for great reading material in their own right).
The book also includes many black and white photos of Gardner, his family, the locations… There is an index and detailed notes and resources for each chapter.
This is a great read and a book I recommend to people interested in Charles Gardner, in the history of the radio, news reporting, BBC and media in the UK, in WWII history, particularly the RAF, and in British aviation in general.
You might want to check this article by the author where he talks about his father and about this book.
Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and especially, keep safe and keep smiling (even under the mask). ♥
I bring you a non-fiction book that I think will interest many of you. Fabulous.
The Home Front 1939–1945 in 100 Objects by Austin J Ruddy
A lifesaving gas mask. A ration book, essential for the supply of food. A shelter stove that kept a family warm whilst they huddled in their Anderson shelter. A leaflet dropped by the Luftwaffe that was designed to intimidate Britain’s populace during the threat of invasion. A civilian identity card over-stamped with the swastika eagle from the occupied Channel Islands. A rare, previously unpublished, snapshot of legendary American bandleader Glenn Miller playing at a UK air base. A twisted remnant of German V2 rocket that went to space and back before exploding over London, the result of equally twisted military science. Colourful flag bunting that saw the VE celebrations in 1945: All disparate objects that together tell the moving and important story of Britain’s Home Front during the Second World War.
The ordinary objects featured in this book, whether those produced in their millions to the far from ordinary or unique, all portray and exude the highs and lows of the British people during six years of war. From the deprivations of rationing and the bombing of the Blitz, to the cheery songs, elegant fashions and ‘Dig For Victory’ spirit, are all captured in colour.
The phrase ‘If only this could talk …’ is often heard: in this book, the objects almost can. All the objects have a general contextual background history and any specific known associated story is also included, all in a clear form, with cross-references to related subjects.
Packed with colour and archive photos, facts, figures, dates and statistics for easy reference, The Home Front 1939–1945 in 100 Objects is the perfect book for students, historians, collectors and general readers, enabling a clear understanding of one of Britain’s most important historical periods.
Born in North London in 1973, AUSTIN J. RUDDY was educated at Highgate School and the University of Leicester, where he attained his degree in Archaeology. He has studied and collected the social and military history of the Second World War, particularly the British Home Front, for most of his life. Austin has featured on television and radio discussing wartime history. Austin worked at the Leicester Mercury newspaper for twenty years, where he was editor of the popular ‘Mr Leicester’ daily local history page. He currently works in Leicestershire as a freelance researcher and writer. He enjoys books, gardening, animals, old buildings, music, watching football and classic comedy (sometimes they overlap), plus vegan food and drink.
I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback ARC copy of this non-fiction book that I freely chose to review.
I have previously reviewed other books on the series, and like then, I found this to be a fantastic resource for general readers, amateur historians, for those who still remember the war (or have relatives or friends who still do), and also for people researching the topic for their own projects.
In his introduction, the author explains that when he was a young child he was surrounded by people who’ve lived through the war and they all had stories to tell. He became so interested that he started interviewing ARP (Air Raid Precautions) wardens and Home Guards about the Blitz in his London neighbourhood. He noticed that although books and documentaries gave him a general view of the period, when he could see and touch objects that had been there, he could truly feel the connection to the past, and that set him on the path of collecting. While the protagonists and their memories might no longer be with us, these objects can shine a light on the time and help provide a well-deserved memorial to the people who lived through it. The book recovers 100 of those objects, following an approximate chronological order, sharing colour pictures of all of them (and some extra images as well), and a write-up that provides ample background information of the role they played (information leaflets, propaganda posters…) and also of the people they belonged to (medals, certificates, uniforms, pictures…). The book also includes a list of abbreviations (quite useful as there were many organisations contributing to the war effort, and some changed names as well), a list of bibliography/further reading, and an index, that will prove helpful to those interested in researching the topic in more detail.
Some of the objects will be familiar to most readers, although they might not be familiar with the story or all the details behind them (food ration books, petrol ration coupons, pillboxes…), and others perhaps not so much (I hadn’t seen the identity cards or the Conscientious Objector’s Application Form, and had never seen an example of a German ID card for the residents of the Channel Islands…). I had also heard much about German propaganda leaflets dropped over Britain, but was pleased to see some examples. It is a great way to bring history to life and to help us understand a bit better those times and what life in the home front must have been like.
Realising that leaflets delivered to all the houses were the best way to communicate with the population would shock young people today; there are topics that will make readers want to read more (the debate about to what extent the Luftwaffe deliberately targeted towns and cities rather than military objectives, for example); some will remind us that the losses were not only in the battlefield (like the civilian war death certificate); there are mementos of events that have become a fundamental part of the history of some places forever (fragments of glass from one of the windows of Coventry Cathedral). We are also reminded that not everybody was pulling together either, as the looting warning posters remind us; and seeing a copy of the Beveridge Report which so many bought because it brought them hope for a better future (utopian, but some of his suggestions did come to pass, like the NHS) helps us understand what kept the population going in such tough times.
This book provides plenty of information, images, data, and, perhaps most important of all, the personal stories behind some of these objects. It is a touching and moving memorial to a time that is not as distant as some seem to think, and one we should never forget. Because, as the author states, when we talk about war heroes, many only think of generals, soldiers, pilots… and they forget that people on the home front were fighting without weapons, trying to put the fires out, disposing of the bombs, organising rescue parties, looking after the wounded… As the author summarises:
“In a war that typified human’s ability for inhumanity, these heroes of the Home Front proved that humanity was the ultimate victor.”
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is a must for people who are looking for information about the home front, especially those who prefer graphic resources; readers who want to learn more about the era in an enjoyable way; and it would make a great gift for those who lived through the war and still recall the events and the period. A great resource for writers and amateur historians as well.
Thanks to Rosie, to the author, and to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe!
I bring you a book that made me think about my father quite a lot. I hope you find it as interesting as I did (and as I am sure he would have).
A Champion Cyclist Against the Nazis: The Incredible Life of Gino Bartali by Alberto Toscano
Italy,1943. Although allied with Hitler, there were those who refused to accept the fascist policies of racial discrimination and deportation. Among them was Gino Bartali.
A champion cyclist, he won the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) three times and the Tour de France twice. But these weren’t his only achievements. Deeply religious, Bartali never spoke about what he did during those dark years, when he agreed to work with the Resistance and pass messages from one end of the country to the other. Despite the dangers, Bartali used his training as a pretext to criss-cross Italy, hiding documents in the handlebars and saddle of his bicycle, all the while hoping that each time he was searched they wouldn’t think to disassemble his machine.
As a result of his bravery, 800 Jews — including numerous children — were saved from deportation. He died in Florence in 2000 and was recognized as one of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ in 2013. In this book, Alberto Toscano shares the incredible story of this great sportsman and recalls the dramatic moments in Italy and Europe in the twentieth century.
Alberto Toscano was born in Novara, Piedmont, and graduated in political science from the Università Statale in Milan, Italy, in 1973 with a thesis on the war in Indochina. From 1974 to 1982, he worked as a researcher at the Istituto degli Studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI) in Milan and served as the editor of the ISPI weekly review Relazioni Internazionali. In 1977 and 1978 he received journalism training from the CFJ journalism school in Paris, France. Appointed International Bureau chief of the Italian weekly Rinascita in 1982-1983, he was then editor and special correspondent of the daily newspaper L’Unità until 1986, when he became the Paris correspondent of the daily economic magazine ItaliaOggi.
He is the author of over 5000 articles on France, published by Italian newspapers of several political tendencies: ItaliaOggi, L’Indipendente, Il Giornale.
He works as a journalist and political commentator for several media outlets — in Italy with the press agency Agenzia Giornali Associati (AGI), the RAI public radio and the private television group Mediaset, and in France with Nouvel Observateur, RFI, France Culture, France Inter and TV5. It also collaborates with the daily La Croix and served as president of the Foreign Press Association in France in 1996-1997, and currently serves as the president of the European Press Club since 2000 and President of the cultural association Piero Piazzano di Novara since 2001. Finally, since 2008, he is a member of the Board of Directors of the French Section of the Union of Francophone Press (UPF).
He is visiting professor in Political Science at Sciences-Po in Bordeaux. He is a member of the Training and Research Unit of Italian Language and Literature at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
He was received into the French National Order of Merit.
I received an early hardback copy of this non-fiction book from Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, which I freely chose to review.
My father loved cycling, both watching it and jumping on a bike, and he belonged to a local cycling club. He could talk about cycling and bicycles for hours on end, and he inspired others to take it up as well (not me, I must hasten to add, but several of his brothers and nephews). That was partly the reason why I was attracted to this book in the first place, although I had never heard about Gino Bartali. But let me reassure you: you don’t need to be a fan of cycling to enjoy this book. Although there is plenty about Bartali’s cycling career and achievements (he dedicated most of his life to it, even after he retired from sporting events), this book is not a manual on cycling techniques, full of information about bicycle manufacturers, and painstakingly detailed descriptions of the individual races. You don’t need to be very knowledgeable about Italian politics or history to enjoy it either. Toscano, the author, manages to combine biographical information about the protagonist of the book with a solid background of the socio-historic-political situation in Italy at the time. I’m not an expert on Italian history, but I felt I gained perspective on the Italian experience during WWII, especially on the efforts of a part of the population to save not only Italian-Jews but also Jews arrived from other areas to Italy in that period. I have come across many books on the experience of the French Resistance (particularly historical fiction set there) but not so many on what happened in Italy, and it offered me a new perspective. And non-fictional as well.
What I most liked of the book was the way the author manages to place the story of Bartali in the context of the era. The personality of the man comes across in the book. He was determined, a fighter, very religious (Roman Catholic and devoted), with high moral standards, who would do the right thing, even if it meant putting himself at risk, and although he did not shy away from popularity (he regularly appeared on TV with Fausto Coppi, his eternal rival while cycling but also a good friend), he never wanted to discuss his role in helping save many Jews as part of the efforts of the DELASEM (Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants) in collaboration with Catholic priests, bishops, nuns, and many Italian civilians who helped in any way they could (housing them, providing papers, money, etc.). The book uses translated quotes from Bartali’s own autobiographies and also from the book his son, Andrea, wrote about his father (and the originals in Italian are provided also as Endnotes) to illustrate events and to make us feel as if we could hear him and had met him. There are also a few B&W pictures included. As I have said, I felt I learned a lot about the era, the politics, the importance of cycling as a sport in Italy at the time, and how sports and politics become enmeshed (and sports and national identity). Bartali was not a sympathiser of Mussolini and fascism, and that resulted in difficult situations for him, but he was well known and respected, and that put him in a great position to be able to help others. I also enjoyed the writing style, which is fluid and provides the right amount of information for people without in-depth knowledge to follow the narrative without becoming overwhelming. Toscano achieves a good balance between the general and the detail, and the book offers a good overview of the era and of Bartali’s life and achievements.
If I had to mention something I disliked, or rather, I missed, is a full bibliography. The book provides plenty of information on the subject (Bartali) and on Italian history and politics, but there is no bibliographical section that could help people interested in those topics to research further. Some films and the books about Bartali are mentioned within the text, but there is no separate reference to them. The preface and the afterword, on the other hand, highlight the importance of Bartali and of this book, and there is information within the text about newspaper headlines and articles that would make them easy to trace back.
I recommend this book to people interested in WWII stories, particularly those about the home front and about individuals whose war efforts have not been recognised until recently. People interested in cycling, Italian history and politics, and anybody who wants to read about a fascinating character that more than rose to the challenges of his time will enjoy this book. And I’m sure my father would have loved it as well.
I had to conclude with a quote that, according to the book, Bartali shared with his son, Andrea, about why he kept silent about his role in WWII:
I want to be remembered for my sporting achievements and not as a war hero. The heroes are the others, those who suffered in body, mind, and in their loved ones. I just did what I did best. Ride a bike. Good must be done discretely. Once it is spoken of, it loses its value because it is as if one is trying to draw attention away from the suffering of others. They are the medals you can hang on your soul that will count in the Kingdom of Heaven, not on this earth.
Thanks to Rosie Croft and Pen & Sword for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for writing, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, keep safe, and never forget.
I bring you a book I mentioned a while back, and here it is, finally.
Girl With A Sniper Rifle: An Eastern Front Memoir by Yulia Zhukova
In this vivid first-hand account we gain unique access to the inner workings of Stalin’s Central Women’s Sniper School, near Podolsk in Western Russia.
Luliia was a dedicated member of the Komsomol (the Soviet communist youth organization) and her parents worked for the NKVD. She started at the sniper school and eventually became a valued member of her battalion during operations against Prussia.
She persevered through eight months of training before leaving for the Front on 24th November 1944 just days after qualifying. Joining the third Belorussian Front her battalion endured rounds of German mortar as well as loudspeaker announcements beckoning them to come over to the German side.
Luliia recounts how they would be in the field for days, regularly facing the enemy in terrifying one-on-one encounters. She sets down the euphoria of her first hit and starting her “battle count” but her reflection on how it was also the ending of a life.
These feelings fade as she recounts the barbarous actions of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. She recalls how the women were once nearly overrun by Germans at their house when other Red Army formations had moved off and failed to tell them. She also details a nine-day standoff they endured encircled by Germans in Landsberg.
Regularly suffering ill-health, she took a shrapnel injury to her knee and had to be operated on without an anaesthetic. She would eventually see the end of the war in Köngsberg.
Like her famous counterpart Pavlichenko, she gained recognition but struggled to come to terms with war service. Haunted by flashbacks she burned the letters she sent home from the Front. She later discovered that of the 1885 graduates of her sniper school only 250 had died in the war.
In this powerful first-hand account, we come up close to the machinations of the NKVD (the secret police) as well as the gruelling toll of war and the breathtaking bravery of this female sniper.
Additional material includes notes by John Walter and an introduction by Martin Pegler.
Luliia Konstantinovna Zhukova spent her early years in Uralsk but her parents moved from city to city through their work for the secret police, the NKVD. Despite suffering from ill-health in her youth she eventually enlisted and trained to be a sniper. After the war she finished her studies at Moscow University Pedagogical Institute and worked as a Komsomol secretary in Moscow. She then became a school director of a school and worked for the Communist Party.
I thank Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me an early hardback copy of this non-fiction title that I freely chose to review.
I reviewed The Sniper Encyclopedia a while back and I became fascinated by the data about female snipers, so I was happy to have this opportunity to review a personal account by one of them.
As the description explains, Luliia (or Yulia, depending on the spelling) Zhukova was one of many girls who fought during WWII as part of the USSR forces. She wrote this book in her 90s (she was 92 when the original version was published), and it is clear from her introduction that she was somewhat reluctant to write a memoir, as she, like many others, thought that only people who’d led extraordinary lives should write such accounts. But she changed her mind as she realised that all lives reflect their historical era, and she also felt that the young generations should have access to different, personal, and alternative accounts to the official narrative of the war in her country (that is not particularly enamoured by). This reflects a major turning point for her, because as we learn when we progress through the book, for many years she wished to bury all memories of that period, suffered terrible nightmares, and made a concerted effort to get rid of any reminders (including burning correspondence, documents, pictures, etc.). Despite all that, there are a handful of photographs, some from her time as a soldier, some from the seventies, when she started attending reunions of veterans of the war, and some more recent, of her with her daughter and granddaughter, which help put a face to the story, and also to some of the other people she mentions. There is also an insert talking about the weapons, and an appendix at the end listing the graduates of the Central Women’s Sniping School who were awarded the Order of Glory 2nd and 3rd class.
Although she does not consider herself extraordinary in any way, she was a determined young woman, and a brave and eager one, as she has always suffered from ill health but that did not prevent her from enrolling into a course to become a sniper, even before she was 18, and then going to war, despite that going against the wishes of her mother and her step-father. Luliia does not describe her life before the war in a lot of detail, but there is enough to give a good understanding of what kind of family she grew up in (she was an only child, so her parents would have been even more reluctant), and it provides us with some understanding of the dynamics of the era (her step-father had been imprisoned once even though he held an official position).
Once Luliia gets to sniper school, her life changes drastically. The narration comes to life with stories of comradery, of life in a group of women, of living away from home for the first time, having to wear strange uniforms, having to follow a harsh discipline, missing her mother but becoming much more independent and proud of her achievements. By the time she goes to war, Luliia has grown up, although nothing has quite prepared all of them for what is to come.
The author acknowledges that she might misremember things (and recounts her memory of her first kill and compares it to the account of another woman in her regiment, and there are significant differences), and she does not always recall all dates and locations, but she is excellent at recreating the atmosphere, the smells, the bodily sensations, the fear, the anxiety, and the brief moments of joy (having a bath after days in the trenches, sleeping in a proper bed, receiving any kind of good news…). This is not a list of battles and skirmishes, but a personal account of what it felt to be there, especially as a woman, and the instances of what nowadays would be classed as harassment (almost a way of life) but also of kindness and support. She got separated from the rest of her regiment and ended up joining a male unit, with the difficulties you can imagine. So, although she is not well-known, her experiences deserve to be told, read, and remembered.
There are many moments that give one pause when reading the book, and not because the author goes out of her way to overdramatise things. If anything, her style is matter-of-fact and understated. Often, what is not said is as poignant as what she does say. There are no complaints and the only bitterness she expresses is towards accounts of the war that she feels have robbed those who took part in it of their pride, making them feel ashamed, and some being abused and harassed because of it (to the point where she mentions some veterans who took their own lives because of it). Her opinions will not be to everybody’s taste, but when she mentions an incident when a veteran attended a school and a youth asked him why they had fought so hard in the war and told him that if they hadn’t, Germany would have conquered them and now they would have as good a life as the Germans did, her upset is understandable. We might agree or not with the politics that brought the conflict into being, but the people who got caught in it and put their lives at risk deserve respect.
She shares a poem from Nikolai Berezovsky’s “The Last Front Line Veteran” that I found quite moving and thought I’d share with you:
When out last front-line veteran
Shuts his eyes and lies in peace,
Doubtless, at that moment
We’ll all feel a great unease.
The heart of every Russian
Will be struck by a strange malaise.
If the sun’s out brightly shining,
It will yield to a darkening haze.
We’ll feel an untimely shudder,
We’ll sense a feverish glow,
And the maple in mother’s garden
Will suddenly bow down low.
I think this is an important book that I recommend to those interested in WWII, especially in personal accounts, and more particularly those looking for Eastern Front memoirs. Also, to historians or readers eager to learn more about women’s involvement in WWII, and, in general, to anybody keen to read a memoir from an era we should never forget.
Thanks to Rosie and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, smile, and keep safe!
A full and wholly fair representation of the most adventurous life in the history of British politics. There is not a word I would have changed in the text of this excellent graphical account’ – Andrew Roberts.
Sir Winston Churchill is considered one of the most important figures of the 20th Century. This innovative graphic biography tells his extraordinary story, from his upbringing, through his military exploits and experience of the First World War, to his pivotal role in the Second World War. It explores the details of Churchill’s life within its historical and political context and brings the story to vivid life with precision, clarity and stunning visuals.
With a foreword by leading Churchill historian Andrew Roberts, the biography is followed by a series of information pages on Churchill and the War, providing further background to the story and the opportunity to explore some of the ideas in the book in more detail. Beautifully drawn, bursting with facts and highly accessible, this graphic biography will introduce a whole new generation of readers to Churchill’s incredible career and important legacy.
Born in 1948, François Kersaudy, OBE, FRSL, is a former research fellow at Keble College, Oxford, and a professor at the University of Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne. Known in the UK for this two books Churchill and de Gaulle and Norway 1940 (Collins, 1981 and 1990 ) he also wrote the only French biographies of Goering, Mountbatten and MacArthur, and is best known in France for his prize-winning biography of Winston Churchill (Tallandier, 2000). Professor Kersaudy is also a chronicler writing for the French weekly Le Point.fr.
About Andrew. Roberts
Andrew Roberts is a British historian and journalist. His modern works have focused on World War II figures, and his work was the basis for the BBC series Hitler and Churchill (2013). He won the 2010 British Army Military Book of the Year for The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (2009) and the Prix du Jury des Grand Prix de la Fondation Napoléon in 2014 for won the award for Napoleon the Great.
Roberts is currently a Visiting Professor at King’s College London and a Lehrman Institute Distinguished Lecturer at the New York Historical Society. He regularly writes for publications such as The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph.
Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.
I am not a big reader of graphic novels and books (I used to read them when I was younger but not that much in recent years), but this title caught my attention due to the subject and to the authors and contributors. The book, which was first published in French in 2018, had some excellent reviews, and although I’m not an expert, in my opinion, they are well deserved.
The book is not a full biography (we don’t see the great man die), but we follow him from early childhood until the end of World War II, and special attention is given to the war period. The book also includes a foreword by Andrew Roberts —an expert on Churchill who has written about him and about WWII— endorsing the book, and an introduction (with B&W and colour photographs) and brief biography of Churchill by François Kersaudy, historical consultant of the volume, which further enhances the content.
The illustrations are beautiful and well-executed, in a classical style, with an interesting use of colours and shadows. Although they are in full colour, green, ochre, brown, and dark hues predominate from the beginning, as if foreshadowing the coming war, and the last part of the book (approximately the last fifty pages) are dedicated fully to World War II. There is a predominance of illustrations about his public life (as a war reporter, in the military, and later as a politician), but there are also some about his personal life, where we get to see Churchill, the man. The moments of action are interspersed with some quieter ones, although the illustrations dealing with the war, attacks, and action, are particularly fine and impressive. The text complements the images perfectly, and the writer has chosen the materials well, highlighting snippets of speeches and expressions he is well known for. That does not mean the book paints an unrealistic picture of Churchill, showing him as heroic and always right, without flaws or foibles. The man emerges from the picture as well, with his stubbornness, his recklessness at times, and his determination to do whatever necessary (not always the most suitable attitude for a politician, although the opposite isn’t particularly desirable either).
This is a great book to introduce Churchill to people of all ages who might not be too familiar with his biography or know very little about him, who like to experiment with other formats rather than the standard book or are fans of graphic novels and books, and who enjoy their history in a bite-size and visual format. The book is larger than a standard paperback, and it would make a beautiful present for anybody interested in the subject, in WWII, or just fans of graphic novels. It’s also particularly appealing at this time of crisis, when the role of politicians has come to the fore, and it’s impossible not to compare our current leaders with some memorable figures from the past and wonder how they might have dealt with the situation.
(There are, of course, action scenes depicting the war, although not particularly gross or explicitly gore, although parents of very young children might want to check the book themselves beforehand).
Thanks to Rosie, Pen & Sword and the authors and translator, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling and stay safe.
German Military Vehicles in the Spanish Civil War: A Comprehensive Study of the Deployment of German Military Vehicles on the Eve of WW2 by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique
A comprehensive and up-to-date study of the combat and logistics vehicles which formed part of the German contingent that fought in the Spanish Civil War alongside the rebels.
The Panzer I, which so surprised the world in the Polish campaign and initially equipped the German Panzerdivisionen, was first seen in the Spanish Civil War, together with a wide range of war materiel such as antitank guns, flamethrowers, and so on.
This book looks at a wide range of vehicles: from the humblest motorcycle to the Horch staff car; from Opel ‘Blitz’, MAN Diesel, Mercedes, and Krupp trucks to the enormous Vomag 3LR 443 truck; not forgetting all the different types of military ambulances seen in Spain during the war years.
Never has such a comprehensive, painstaking and graphical study been made of vehicles used by the German contingent in the Spanish Civil War. The book contains over 500 top quality images, most of them previously unpublished, with each model that served in Spain perfectly identified.
Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.
I am not a connoisseur when it comes to military history or military vehicles, but I have recently become fascinated by unusual documents and photographs about the war, as they have the power to make the past come to life in a vivid way even for those who never experienced it. In the case of this book, 2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War, and I have watched programmes and read articles about different aspects of it. Many talked about the air raids by Italian and especially German bombers in support of the Nationalist army and against the Republic, which worked well as a testing ground of their equipment prior to WWII. When I saw this book, it struck me that I hadn’t heard anything about other German vehicles used during the Spanish Civil War, although it made perfect sense that they would also send other military equipment to aid the war effort. And I felt curious.
This book is a treasure trove of pictures of the vehicles used in the Spanish Civil War. Apart from the photographs of vehicles (and not only German, as there is also the odd captured vehicle, like some Russian tanks), there are also pictures of insignia, medals, and some fabulous illustrations, both in black and white and in colour, of the vehicles and the soldiers. The collection includes tanks, cars, buses, trucks, ambulances, motorbikes (some with sidecars), and plenty of support vehicles (signal vehicles, anti-tank, anti-aircraft vehicles, mobile communication units…), and of course, the soldiers as well.
The text is minimal, and it contains factual information about the negotiations with the Germans, the number of vehicles and men they sent to train the rebel army, where they were posted, and there are also some charts summarising the numbers and the makes of the vehicles in each unit. As the authors explain, it is difficult to be precise when it comes to numbers, and in fact, they ask readers to get in touch if they find any discrepancies or have any further information that can be updated in future editions.
The main interest for a non-expert like me, apart from seeing many pictures of vehicles I’d never seen before, was to see the soldiers and the different locations also. Many of the pictures are clearly posed, but some seem to have caught soldiers going about their everyday lives (peeling potatoes, chatting, washing by the river…). There are no overly dramatic pictures or action pictures as such, but the uniforms, insignia, and vehicles could prove invaluable to historians and writers interested in obtaining an accurate description of the era. I also read reviews that commented on how useful such a book would be for people interested in building realistic military models, and by the same token, it would also be useful to people who provide props or create sets for movies or TV programmes.
I missed an index and a bibliography, although the book seems to be based on an individual collection, that of J.M. Campesino, and that might explain why there is no detailed information.
This is a book that will delight fans of military history and military vehicles, with the added interest that many of those vehicles were tried and tested in Spain first and were later put to use in WWII. The authors have published a number of books in Spanish on historic subjects related mostly to the Spanish Civil War, and I understand that Pen & Sword are working on publishing other related titles. An informative and visually engaging book about a period of Spanish history that remains very present, and we should never forget.
Thanks to the authors and to Rosie, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, and keep reading and smiling!
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