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‘England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more. Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.
John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.
Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has only just begun.”
This World War II story is a blend of fact and fiction, and where the author is dealing with real events the writing is excellent. The opening scene in a somewhat unconventional burns unit of a hospital conveys that special hush of a ward at night; the following chapter about the pilot and crew of an American bomber takes you right into the terrifying action of airborne combat. The narrative here is faultless: I was actually holding my breath as if watching the scene in a film. But then comes a ‘he-loves-me-he-loves-me not’ romance featuring an over-contrived love triangle of an English landed-gentry rotter, the muscular American hero Mac (who’s from Montana but has an attractive southern drawl), and a rather too ‘nice’ heroine called Stella, who does find herself before the end of the story but takes rather too long about it.
The other character of note is the real life hero, Archie McIndoe, a plastic surgeon whose innovative procedures and relaxed recovery unit (with a gramophone, on-tap beer and wheel-chair gymkhanas) enabled burns victims to not only return to health but regain their self-confidence after suffering life-changing injuries.
This is a novel for those who enjoy wartime romances. Period details and social attitudes are spot on, and the dialogue comes close to British films of the forties. The text has been expertly proofread, but better editing would have eliminated the superfluous walk-on characters, and repetitive phrases and images. Stella, Mac and Archie McIndoe indulge in repetitious agonising, and the romance chapters need tightening up to give the novel a sharper, page-turner pace, which a wartime story – where daily survival is genuinely threatened – requires. Having said that, Suzy Henderson is a good writer but maybe in need of a more experienced editor to give that little bit extra polish.
All the same, this is a good book for detail – and an author to watch!
© J.G. Harlond
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