This well-crafted British war novel set during the London Blitz of 1940-1941 resurrects elements that have enlivened the genre for seven decades. Alan J. Summers gives us derring-do aloft: his hero is a dashing, 19-year-old Spitfire pilot named Mark Brabham, downed over the Channel in the act of destroying two German aircraft in a fiery smashup. There’s plenty of Stiff Upper Lip on the ground, too: a plucky and beautiful Welsh “land girl,” Elizabeth Fforest (yes, two “fs”), moves on from her milk-hauling duties on a remote farm to become an Allied spy in occupied Paris — but not before falling in love with the badly-burned flight lieutenant. Supporting players: a pistol-packing farmer, a stranded Polish flier, a self-important constable.
Summers is a slow starter. When Brabham is sent to recover from his disfiguring wounds in a quiet Essex village (where his Uncle Tom is the local vicar), the tale initially gets buried under a mountain of detail about rural civil defense and eager youth groups. But then the Mark/Elizabeth romance heats up, a couple of German planes crash nearby, and the author deftly reveals the eccentricities of the Brabham family. Inevitably, the village is tragically bombed, the Brabhams find themselves in audience with cranky Winston Churchill and we are led along to a familiar notion: There Shall Always Be an England.
Summers’ prose can be painfully fastidious: “After the main course and a ginger pudding with custard, Elizabeth was reviewing the menu for a cake to go with her tea when the air raid sirens started to sound.” But he understands the telling detail (a high-living German pilot dies wearing a dinner jacket under his flight suit), and he has an obvious affection for British history bathed in romantic light—young love imperiled by war, old revolvers secreted in dresser drawers, proper weekend shooting parties lubricated by snifters of port. For World War II fiction buffs, here’s a nice read.