Spiffing War Novel!

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TGittins's review of James Holland, Hellfire

★★★★☆
James Holland, Hellfire

“Spiffing War Novel!”

Written on: 25/11/2012 by TGittins (5 reviews written)

James Holland's pedigree as Military Historian, and newspaper/magazine contributor, and author of five historical works, is obvious in this well-crafted, historically-accurate, World War Two adventure.

Holland realized there was no Sharpe, or Hornblower for the Second World War, and decided to create Jack Tanner. Tanner doesn't feature as heavily in his own tale as much as Sharpe or Hornblower feature in theirs, but the strength of the supporting cast, characters like Alex Vaughan, and Stan Sykes, allow the tale to develop flawlessly.

I like Tanner, as a hero; he is, perhaps, a little more vulnerable than others, gets wounded and makes mistakes along the way. But, his decision-making under fire is exemplary; and he hands out a particularly painful lesson in manners to one of the Officer class, who looked down on the “oiks” - even an “oik” whose bravery earned him a battlefield promotion.
We may be aware that this privileged class has made poor and tragic decisions, throughout the history of warfare - never more so than in some aspects of the First World War; we may be less aware that those disastrous decisions continued to be made in this Second campaign, too?
Jack Tanner’s story unfolds in the North Africa of Rommel and Montgomery, and mainly in Cairo, which almost develops a character of its own, being hot and sweaty, and a little grubby, but, at the same time, beautiful and vibrant.
The espionage part of the story, to me, doesn’t quite convey the importance or urgency of what’s being done, and why the Allies need to stop it. But the soldiering and battle descriptions certainly convey their story, from the seemingly endless and banal waiting around for right conditions to appear; to the noise and suddenness of battle, and the confusion caused by the lack of visibility.
Comradeship, acts of daring and bravery, and, sometimes, acts of near-lunacy, all have to feature in stories of this kind; as does compassion, and the normality of relationships by which we can assess the strength of the characters. All these are written with credibility, and I can pay no greater compliment to the author, than to say I will read another of his books.

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