Tag Archives: World War Two

#BookReview ‘The Rose Code’ by @KateQuinnAuthor #WW2 #Bletchley

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn is the first book I’ve read by this author. I was drawn in by the WW2 setting and promise of mystery, but it’s much more than that. There are two timelines; 1947 as the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth approaches, and 1939 at the outbreak of war. At its centre are three young women who don’t quite fit into their worlds. War introduces something new to their lives. Opportunity. Advancement. Recognition. Friendship. Home. Kate QuinnMabs has grown up in Shoreditch but longs to escape. She follows her own plan of improvement – reading the classics, copying the accents of assistants in upper class shops – with the long-term aim of rescuing her younger sister Lucy from poverty. Osla is a Canadian society girl, rich, pretty, labelled as a dim deb who trains as a riveter to make Hurricanes. Both have mysterious interviews and are sent on a train journey to ‘Station X’. This turns out to be a large country mansion – Bletchley Park – where secret war work is undertaken. Both must sign the Official Secrets Act before they are admitted. At their lodgings, they meet Beth, downtrodden daughter of their strict religious landlady Mrs Finch.
Beth’s skill at crosswords is recognised and soon all three girls are working at ‘BP’. In their jobs – typing, translating, decoding – the three girls get to know each other and, despite the rules of secrecy, they learn how gossip inside ‘BP’ works. Soon they are promoted, learning top secret information before it is transmitted to government, before even Churchill. And with knowledge comes power, and danger.
We follow the three through romances – Osla with young naval officer, Prince Philip of Greece – and bombings. There is something to like and dislike about each woman making them realistic, rounded characters. Mab was my favourite, Osla slightly irritating, while Beth changes the most throughout the course of the book. The 1947 strand becomes a hunt for a traitor as the Cold War gets colder and a former WW2 ally becomes the enemy. The girls must revisit their wartime secrets to question the nature of truth and loyalty, to each other and to their country.
The Second World War is often thought of as a time of liberation for women doing the jobs of men and in some ways it was; but Quinn shows this was a transitory advantage – temporary, class driven, certain jobs only – and women were still ultimately dependant on a man in so many ways. As the women look back at their former lives we see how much, and how little, has changed for them.
Some of the coding puzzles went straight over my head but that didn’t really matter. The Bletchley setting is great, the gossip of the weekly scandal rag, the familiar names dropped – Alan Turing, Joan Clarke – the book club and 3am kidneys on toast. I’m not sure the 1947 royal wedding deadline adds much to the narrative, there’s enough threat without it. As I was getting towards the end of the book and was interrupted, I snatched up the book again at the next possible opportunity.

If you like this, try:-
Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson
Another You’ by Jane Cable
Life Class’ by Pat Barker

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE ROSE CODE by @KateQuinnAuthor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5lQ via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society’ #romance #WW2

I prefer to come to a book without reading reviews so I can make up my own mind. But sometimes there is a book that I missed in its early days but which goes onto be hugely popular. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows is such a book. It was first brought to my attention by fellow author Claire Dyer who chose it as her ‘Porridge & Cream’ comfort read. When I asked Claire why it was her choice, she said, “it’s essentially about good people and reading it reminds me that there’s more goodness in the world than sometimes is apparent.” Now I know what she means. Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

The story is told in letter form, a structure I admit to having doubts about before I started reading. But the manner in which the letters flow and the information is dripped in means there are no information gaps, no repetitions. It is 1946 and writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a man in Guernsey who by chance owns a book that once belonged to her. And so begins Juliet’s correspondence with Dawsey Adams and his fellow members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Dawsey encourages other members to write to Juliet with their own experiences of the German occupation of the island. And so we hear from the nice, and not-so-nice characters.

What could be a superficial account of the islanders’ lives becomes a cleverly managed tale of a community that survives by mutual support, generosity, toughness, bravery and above all kindness. As letter after letter arrives from different people, we build up full pictures of the incidents that happened. Although there is a romantic thread to this tale – the rather full-of-himself Mark Reynolds – this is really a story about the survival of an island community throughout a time of unimagined difficulty.

At first Juliet is entranced by the islanders’ stories but as they write more letters she wants to meet them in person, both to put faces to her correspondents and to scout the possibility of writing a book about their experiences. The book is split into two parts; in part one, Juliet is in London; in part two she travels to Guernsey. The story takes places during nine months of 1946; this feels a tight time span for some of the emotional relationships to develop and at times the familiarity and trust seemed to progress in leaps rather than steps, but perhaps this is understandable post-war when people grasped at chances of normality and happiness.

The title suggests this is a nice, quirky read – and it places it did make me chuckle – but it also tells of brutality, torture and death and the lasting after-effects of war.

I was left wishing I hadn’t read it yet and that I had it to look forward to. Just the book to re-read when your spirit needs a lift.

If you like this, try:-
Pattern of Shadows’ by Judith Barrow
After the Party’ by Cressida Connolly
The Book of Lies’ by Mary Horlock

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY & POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-47C via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘While Paris Slept’ by Ruth Druart #WW2

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart is a World War Two story with a difference. It focusses on the lives of two couples and how one incident, a decision made in seconds, challenges the four people involved to define their own perception of true, selfless love and the heart-wrenching sacrifices this may mean. Ruth Druart

This is a dual-timeline story. It starts in 1953, California. One morning the police call at the home of Jean-Luc Beauchamp and take him in for questioning. He is unsurprised. His wife Charlotte and son Sam do not know what is happening.

Interleaved with the story unfolding in 1953, we see Jean-Luc as a young man in occupied Paris, 1944. He is conscripted as a rail maintenance worker based at the Drancy station from where French Jews were transported to Auschwitz. At weekends he travels home to see his mother in Paris but does not admit the things he sees and suspects. Ashamed that people may think he is a collaborator, he determines to do his part. He is injured in an attempt to damage the rail track and is taken to the German hospital where he is nursed by a young French girl, Charlotte. Charlotte, who took the job at the urging of her mother to do something useful, also wants to fight back against the occupiers. Then one day at Drancy a young woman on her way to Auschwitz, suspecting the fate awaiting her and her husband, thrusts her newborn baby into Jean-Luc’s arms. She says his name is Samuel. What follows is an exploration of the lengths people will go to for the true love of defenceless child. And at the heart of it all, subjected to the decisions made by adults, is Samuel.

It is a detailed story, slow to build, as the early pages add to the definition of the later events. At times I wanted to stay in one timeline for longer, rather than swapping between 1953 and 1944, but this is a powerful emotional story that is worth sticking with.

A strong story that doesn’t turn away from difficult issues; the rights, the wrongs and the hazy bits in between.

If you like this, try:-
The Heat of the Day’ by Elizabeth Bowen
The Aftermath’ by Rhidian Brook
White Chrysanthemum’ by Mary Lynn Bracht

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
WHILE PARIS SLEPT by Ruth Druart #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5cY via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘A Prince and a Spy’ by Rory Clements #thriller #war #WW2

Rory Clements is fast becoming an author I turn to when I need a page-turning read to relax into. A Prince and a Spy is fifth in his Tom Wilde Second World War series and it doesn’t disappoint. Woven into true history of the conflict – the fatal crash in Scotland of the Duke of Kent’s plane, the holocaust – Clements adds real and fictional characters, intrigue and competing spies, to make this an enjoyable read. Rory Clements

When history professor Wilde returns by train home to Cambridge he bumps into a former student. Cazerove seems distracted, distressed, munching on a bag of sweets. Before the train reaches its destination, Cazerove dies of poisoning. So begins a typical Clements thriller – strong characters, true history and a string of unrelated incidents. When the Duke of Kent’s plane crashes on a remote hill in Scotland, the public is told his plane came down in heavy fog when taking off for Iceland on operational duties. In the world of A Prince and a Spy, the flying boat was returning from a secret diplomatic mission in Sweden where the Duke met his German cousin, a former member of the Nazi party. Wilde, working for the newly-established American secret intelligence service, OSS, is sent to Scotland to sniff around at the crash site and ask questions on behalf of his president. FDR wants to know why the plane crashed, was Prince George at the controls, was it shot down, and how did one person survive?

A keynote of this series is the multi-layering of rival spy agencies in the UK – the British, the Americans – the infiltration of Nazi agents, Soviet agitators and, in this book, a secret society. Clements is excellent at showing history through the eyes of fictional characters, a challenging task, and I particularly liked the Scottish segment with fisherman Jimmy Orde. A continuing thread from book to book is Wilde’s relationship with his partner Lydia, and Philip Eaton, the British spy who first involved Wilde in espionage. Clements twists reality in this book so Wilde doesn’t know who to trust, who to believe, and who is spying on him. So much so that at times, I lost track too.

An excellent weekend read.

Read my reviews of the first four books in the Tom Wilde series:-
Hitler’s Secret

If you like this, try:-
Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson
The Aftermath’ by Rhidian Brook
Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A PRINCE AND A SPY by Rory Clements #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-574 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Skylark’s Secret’ by @FionaValpy #WW2

Aultbea, a small fishing village on the shores of Loch Ewe on the west coast of Scotland, was transformed during World War Two into a Royal Navy base for the Arctic convoys. Into this true history Fiona Valpy weaves the fictional story of Flora Gordon in The Skylark’s Secret. Fiona Valpy

In 1977, Lexie Gordon returns to Loch Ewe from London after the death of her mother Flora. Lexie arrives home a single mother to baby Daisy, her West End singing career broken because of her damaged vocal chords. She feels a failure, gossiped about by the locals, seen as an outsider. Living in her mother’s cottage, she becomes curious about the father she never met and who her mother never spoke freely about.

In this dual timeline story, the narrative alternates clearly between Lexie in the Eighties and Flora in 1940-1944. Flora lives with her widowed father, Iain, gamekeeper for local estate Ardtuath House, in a quiet village where the toughest enemy is the weather. Then one day a fleet of warships arrive, the first of many. Loch Ewe is to become the temporary base for the Home Fleet. As thousands of navy ratings and officers arrive, Iain and Flora hope her brother Ruaridh will be aboard one of the destroyers. The convoys are to change life by the loch forever. Flora and her two friends Bridie and Mairi enlist in the Wrens as drivers. Laird’s son Alec also returns home with an English girlfriend. When Alec admits his lifelong love for Flora, the two young people must face the disapproval of the intimidating laird. With both Alec and Ruaridh on separate ships accompanying the Arctic convoy of merchant ships sailing for Russia, Flora fears for their lives. Meanwhile, a group of evacuees arrive from Glasgow, including two ragamuffins who lodge with bossy but kind-hearted Moira Carmichael.

Valpy unravels the story of Flora’s war years, the hardships, the danger, the exhilarating moments of freedom when the two young men arrive home safe. But always on the horizon is the next convoy which must face the twin dangers of Arctic ice and marauding U-boats. In 1978, Lexie must make a place for herself and Daisy in the community which includes her mother’s old friend Bridie, Lexie’s schoolfriend Elspeth, and fisherman Davy. She feels a stranger and takes to walking the hills, remembering times with her mother, trying to find her place in the world.

This is a story of wartime courage, romantic entanglements, fear, grief and gratitude for sacrifices made. A well-researched book that shows that research with a light hand on the page, allowing the fictional story room to breathe. Excellent.

If you like this, try:-
Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase’ by Louise Walters
The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters
Another You’ by Jane Cable

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE SKYLARK’S SECRET by @FionaValpy #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-53P via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Bird in the Bamboo Cage’ by @HazelGaynor #WW2

What an engrossing story this is if you’re looking for a world to lose yourself in, a world more horrific and frightening than we can ever imagine. A war story that is at times both traumatic and heart-warming, The Bird in the Bamboo Cage by Hazel Gaynor tells the story of a teacher and pupil interned in China during World War Two, a story often forgotten and seldom told. Hazel Gaynor

Based on the true story of a real school – the China Inland Mission’s Chefoo School in Yantai, Shandong province in northern China – as the Japanese army invades and school life is changed overnight. Gaynor tells her fictionalised story through the viewpoints of teacher Elspeth Kent and pupil Nancy ‘Plum’ Plummer. Elspeth is struggling to write a letter of resignation, intending to return home and join the war effort, when war arrives at the school gates. At first Chefoo School proudly continues to operate under armed guard but after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and the entry of America into the war, the school is moved to Temple Hill internment camp and later to Weihsien. At each step, privations, hardships, hunger, threat and sexual exploitation threaten teachers, pupils and the wider camp community.

Elspeth and Plum offer different perspectives on what is happening and we see the growing friendship and respect between the two women, because Plum starts off a child and grows as a woman unable to remember her mother, unsure if she will ever see her parents again. The teachers truly are ‘in loco parentis’ when the school is relocated and the children learn to support each other, to endure hardship by recognising there is always someone worse off than you and that everyone is a person in their own right [pupils, teachers, guards, fellow internees, night soil women] with their own hopes, dreams and fears. They face hunger, theft and personal attack. Gaynor portrays the school’s protestant ethic with a light hand, instead making Elspeth Brown Owl of Chefoo’s Guides and using the Girl Guide Handbook’s mottos as a thematic skeleton. For each new challenge they meet there is a guiding motto to help them face what must be done.

I am not a lover of all ends being neatly tied and certainly this book is not perfect – chunks of time pass in brief summary paragraphs and at times the action seems delayed with detail of the school day – but Gaynor has created a world of prisoners and enemy that made me want to read on. Of course, we know how the war ended but we so want to know what happens to each pupil and teacher.

Essentially this is a novel about the strength and value of friendship and loyalty, the love that binds people together and enables them to survive horrific situations.

If you like this, try:-
White Chrysanthemum’ by Mary Lynn Bracht
The Translation of Love’ by Lynn Kutsukake
The Gift of Rain’ by Tan Twan Eng

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE BIRD IN THE BAMBOO CAGE by @HazelGaynor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4ZN via @SandraDanby

#Bookreview ‘The Tuscan Contessa’ by @DinahJefferies #WW2

The Tuscan Contessa by Dinah Jefferies is a story of women at war where trust, between women, between strangers, is at the core of everything. Although the book’s title refers to Contessa Sofia de’ Corsi this is also the story of Italian-American Maxine, recruited by English special services to the fight against fascism in Tuscany. Once there and charged with assessing the ability and armaments of Italian partisans, Maxine she finds the fight is not only against the Germans but between Italian groups suspicious of each other. Dinah Jefferies

It is 1943 and in the exquisitely beautiful Tuscan countryside, trust is in short supply. Strangers may be spies or escaping Allied soldiers, the penalty for helping enemies has been followed by retaliation – massacres of villagers by the Nazis. Maxine, with her odd sounding Italian accent, must prove her worth if she is to do her job. She must also learn who to trust. When Maxine’s radio engineer James is wounded, he is sheltered by Sofia in her isolated castello. And so though very different characters, Maxine and Sofia find themselves on the same side; one is young, energetic and full of zeal, the other more cautious and concerned with protecting her husband’s legacy and castello. Neither can imagine the horrors they will see, and the risks they must take, before the war is ended.

The power of Jefferies’ story comes from the juxtaposition of the brutality and blood of war with the beauty of the Italian countryside. The stately villas of Sofia – Castello de’Corsi and in Florence – contribute both atmospherically and practically to the story, offering glimpses into the pre-war and wartime life, as well as hiding places and storage for contraband. And while the women hide their bottled fruit and vegetables, and knit secretly at night – jumpers and socks to keep the partisans warm throughout winters spent hidden in forests and caves – there is the uneasy feeling that some villagers continue to support the fascist cause and inform to the Germans. While Maxine goes on increasingly perilous missions with the partisans, Sofa must handle the unwelcome attention of a German officer whose smiles glint with the promise of sadism.

The book is the result of copious research and visits to locations and gives a clear and often difficult-to-read portrayal of real Tuscan villages during the German occupation. Jefferies shows the complicated moral dilemmas for Italians fighting first one enemy and then another, as the enemy hated at the beginning of the war becomes by 1943 the only hope of salvation. Every woman lives in a constant state of ‘not knowing’; not knowing who to trust, not knowing if a loved one is away fighting, injured, captured or dead. And meanwhile, daily life continues. Children are loved, babies are beget, love is declared and food is made and eaten. In the background is the gossip of reprisals and villagers killed, while in the foreground the women of Castello de’ Corsi continue to exist. As spring arrives with blue skies and beautiful wildflowers, the killing continues.

A moving story of women in wartime facing impossible odds, finding hidden courage and a dash of recklessness in order to fight the enemy. And the recognition of the line which, when crossed, means that your own life ceases to matter when the death of an enemy is preferable. Trust, between women, between strangers, is at the heart of everything.

Read my reviews of The Tea Planter’s Wife and The Sapphire Widow, both by Dinah Jefferies.

If you like this, try these:-
The Burning Chambers’ by Kate Mosse
In Another Life’ by Julie Christine Johnson
The Tuscan Secret’ by Angela Petch

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE TUSCAN CONTESSA by @DinahJefferies #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Xa via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘V2’ by @Robert_Harris #WW2 #thriller

Mostly written during the 2020 virus lockdown, Robert Harris’s V2 is a World War Two thriller like no other I have read – and I’ve read a few. I’ve been a Harris fan since the beginning with Fatherland. V2 is different because it tells two stories – the technical development of the V2 rockets, and five days in November 1944 when the lives of a German rocket engineer and British spy are changed by this weapon. Robert Harris

Harris skilfully handles truth, fiction, engineering details and mathematical calculations, adding two fictional characters to create a page turning story. The V2 rocket is placed firmly at the centre of this book. Without it, there would be no story. Originally conceived by scientists as a space project, the V2 was a hateful weapon that inspired fear. Unlike its predecessor the V1 which could be seen and heard before it descended giving time to take cover, the V2 hit without warning. It was also highly unreliable, going off-target, exploding at launch, crashing at sea, killing the people who built it – slave labourers – and launch crews.

The story opens as rocket engineer Dr Graf is trying to concentrate on pre-launch missile checks on the Dutch coast at Scheveningen. He is interrupted by the arrival of a Nazi officer. The rocket is launched. In London, WAAF officer Kay Caton-Walsh emerges from a bathroom wrapped in a towel. Her assignation with her married lover ends when the V2 lands on their building. Harris’s tightly plotted story sees Kay moved from London-based photo reconnaissance, studying launch sites of the rockets, to Mechelen in Belgium. There she and a team of female mathematicians calculate the flight trajectory of the rocket, tracking it backwards to identify the launch site for Allied fighter-bombers to target. As Dr Graf is pressured to launch rockets more frequently than is safe, Kay can’t shake the feeling she is being followed through the strange shadowy streets of Mechelen.

Occasionally the technical details get in the way of the story but what is most fascinating are the portrayals of the German and British leadership at a time when the end of the war seemed to be approaching. Doubts and regrets by some on the German side are balanced by fanatical demands and obsessive management from the SS. In London, key decisions about the defence of the nation are influenced by an extra-marital affair. On both sides, the men at the top making the decisions seem apart from real life. An excellent read, it is a race against time as Kay and her colleagues try to identify the launch locations and Dr Graf is questioned by the Gestapo. I raced through it.

I was fascinated to read the Author’s Note at the end, explaining the inspiration behind the book. In September 2016, Harris read an obituary in The Times of 95-year old Eileen Younghusband, formerly a WAAF officer at Mechelen.

Read my reviews of Munich and An Officer and a Spy, also by Robert Harris.

If you like this, try:-
The Accident’ by Chris Pavone
The Second Midnight’ by Andrew Taylor
The Farm’ by Tom Rob Smith

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
V2 by @Robert_Harris #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Rs via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Transcription’ by Kate Atkinson #literary #WW2

Few of the characters in Transcription by Kate Atkinson are who they seem to be. A novel of the Second World War, Transcription suggests that the ripples of wartime secrecy spread out through the following years so that outstanding lies and betrayals are eventually repaid. Many years later. Kate Atkinson

In 1940, Juliet Armstrong intends to join one of the women’s armed forces when she receives a letter on government notepaper and is summoned to an interview. After being informed by telegram that she has got the, still unspecified, job, Juliet boards a bus which takes her to Wormwood Scrubs prison, now converted into government offices. There she works in Registry, shuffling files around, until Perry Gibbons says, ‘I need a girl’ and Juliet finds herself working for Perry’s MI5 counter-fascism team at a flat in Dolphin Square.

Told across two timelines, 1940 and 1950 – with a brief glimpse at 1981 in the prologue and epilogue – Transcription has a huge cast of characters, most of whom I confused and, I suspect, Atkinson wishes me to confuse. Some characters are spies with cover names, some are only described and have no name while others seem innocent, too innocent to actually be innocent. If this is all confusing, it is meant to be. That is Atkinson’s point. This is a story about the importance of truth and how lies, which seem pragmatic and normal in wartime, are still lies. And that the most obvious traitors are not always the ones to be worried about.

The 1940 storyline covers the MI5 operation. At first, Juliet’s job is type up transcripts of bugged conversations between fascist supporters in the next door flat; later she takes on the persona of Iris to infiltrate a group of fascist agitators. Sometimes she fluffs her lines, sometimes she is impulsive and gets into trouble. At all times she feels isolated and unsure of the value of what she is doing. She is also a young woman and looks for signs of interest from the men surrounding her. In 1950, while working in the Schools Department of the BBC making educational radio programmes with titles such as ‘Can I Introduce You To?’ and ‘Have You Met?’, she sees familiar faces from her wartime days and the past revisits her.

Atkinson excels at the small detail which makes these workplaces convincing, creating believable relationships between Juliet and radio engineer Cyril at Dolphin Square, and with junior programme engineer Lester Pelling at the BBC. I enjoyed this book but wouldn’t describe it as a page turner. I’m not sure I liked Juliet but she held enough fascination for me as I tried to figure out what she did and didn’t believe in. I was never totally sure if I believed in her.

The Author’s Note at the end of the book is fascinating and perhaps would have served better as a Foreword. So, in summary, not my favourite Atkinson novel but not a bad one either.

Read my reviews of Life after Life and A God in Ruins.

If you like this, try:-
The Heat of the Day’ by Elizabeth Bowen
After the Party’ by Cressida Connolly
Shelter’ by Sarah Franklin

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
TRANSCRIPTION by Kate Atkinson #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4cx via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Rescue Man’ by Anthony Quinn #WW2 #historical

The Rescue Man, debut novel of Anthony Quinn, is slow moving tale of a man changed by war. Set in Liverpool throughout World War Two, it is clearly a love letter to the city by Liverpool-born Quinn. It focusses on a love triangle between a historian and two photographers. Anthony Quinn

Tom Baines is a quiet architectural historian in his late thirties. He lives in the past, researching a book about Liverpool’s buildings which he somehow never manages to finish. In 1939, his mentor recommends he research a misunderstood Liverpool architect, Peter Eames who mysteriously committed suicide leaving his work never properly recognised.

When war breaks out Baines volunteers as a rescue man, working in teams to extract people and bodies from the bombed buildings he was supposedly cataloguing for his book. This experience, and the people he works with, have a profound impact and slowly his life changes. His language coarsens, thanks to mixing with the men on his team, and in response to his publisher’s request to speed up his research of the city’s buildings before they are destroyed by bombs, he meets husband and wife photographers Richard and Bella.

The romance is a long time coming and the first half of the book seems to meander along without urgency, Tom is a quiet, academic unassuming man and I had to work at sticking with the book. I wondered what there was in him which attracted the bright flower, Bella.

Tom Baines says, ‘It was only when war came and I started doing rescue woke that I sort of… woke up.’ Unfortunately the book is a third through before we reach 1940 and the bombing of Liverpool and two-thirds through before the pace picks up. There is a sense of time being suspended until the final quarter of the book is reached and, as the brutality of the bombing clears street after Liverpool street and many of the historic buildings Baines was meant to catalogue are reduced to rubble, Tom hits crisis point.

The pace is not helped as the story of Peter Eames is told via diary extracts which are stop start with substantial gaps. The themes of wartime destruction – not only of buildings, but of trust between family, lovers and friends – are mirrored between the Eames and Baines timelines. Architect Eames builds, rescue man Baines negotiates the rubble left by the Luftwaffe’s bombing raids. And both are key players in love triangles where trust is betrayed and marriage vows broken.

This is Anthony Quinn’s debut novel and though thoughtful like his later books, it lacks their narrative pace. If you are familiar with Liverpool, which I’m not, it will be a more fulfilling read. There is no doubt about Quinn’s beautiful writing, simply that the subject – and the perhaps over-use of the Liverpool setting – did not hold me. Not his best book but well worth reading if you know his later work such as Freya.

Read my reviews of these other books by Anthony Quinn:-
Half of the Human Race
Curtain Call
Our Friends in Berlin

If you like this, try:-
The Slaves of Solitude’ by Patrick Hamilton
‘Homeland’ by Clare Francis
Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE RESCUE MAN by Anthony Quinn #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Gx via @SandraDanby