"This is an exceptional novel and a remarkable debut."
England / Berlin
"In the space of a single night, four lives collide as Berlin staggers under the weight of British bombs: Mick, a Lancaster pilot, proposed to Grace on his last leave but one more mission stands in between him and the end of his tour. Grace harbours a secret, one which she fears might change the nature of their relationship forever. Unsure of how he will respond, she has decided to tell him upon his return knowing that to do so risks losing him forever. Seven hundred miles away in Berlin, war-weary firefighter Karl is haunted by the images he’s seen both on the home front and in Russia. Now he takes command of a group of teenage auxiliaries who find themselves on the front lines of Germany’s defences against a nightly rain of fire. On a call, he meets Ursula, a young woman who lives near his station. Karl quickly finds himself falling for her, unaware that she is playing a dangerous game, one which might place his own life in danger. As the raid unfolds, they face choices which will forever change them and those they love."
This is an exceptional novel and a remarkable debut. The author is an ex-fireman, which explains his facility with matters to do with firefighting. I have no idea how he came by his knowledge of conditions inside a Lancaster bomber on a bombing mission, but he did a truly amazing job. The English idiom and slang and the banter between the members of the aircrews are all handled to perfection, without overdoing it. The book spans just three days in November 1943. We are introduced to several leading characters on both sides of the conflict – a Bomber Command pilot and his fiancée in England and a fireman and his girlfriend in Berlin, among them. The action goes back and forth between the two locations, giving us an eye-opening view of the War from both sides. This is the strength of the novel. It’s impossible not to sympathise equally with both sides. Mr Hutch’s depiction of life under the Nazis is pitch-perfect.
This aspect of the book is a little sketchy, and I had a few minor quibbles, like the shortage of umlauts*. Also, the handling of suspense was a tad uneven in spots, but the author must be forgiven since he has given us what amounts to two excellent novels in one.
Overall, this is a great read by a confident, talented author.
© JJ Toner
*The umlauts are a group of sounds in German. They are written ä, ö, ü (or ae, oe, ue).