DAVID HILL (PUFFIN, $19.99; ON SALE APRIL 3)
This World War II yarn for boys has bandits at three o’clock (and nine o’clock and other points) and Lancasters and Messerschmitts and Fritz and Jerries. There’s even a what-ho chap with a moustache who turns out to be a decent sort after all. Alas, no Englisch schweinhunds, but you can’t have everything.
Our 18-year-old hero bears the good solid everyman name of Jack. In fact, he is so honourable he could have been called Galahad, after the Knight of the Round Table whose traits he shares – right down to virginity. For many of the young readers at whom this book is aimed, an introduction to the concept of Galahads would be no bad thing.
Hill evokes a cold, grey world of cold, grey food and populates it with a United Nations’ worth of different peoples joined in one great struggle. The book also dramatises various attitudes to war, such as those of Jack’s parents, who think this is not New Zealand’s war to fight; his colleague in arms, Stefan, the obsessed Pole, whose family was brutally killed by the Nazis; and English farmers who complain that all this martial activity is bothering their animals.
Jack has joined up against his parents’ wishes. In England, as a member of a fighter crew that undertakes various missions of increasing degrees of danger over occupied Europe, he is confronted with the realities of death in the sky and on the ground. He, too, questions what he is doing. The conclusion is an unexpected one, de-emphasising heroics to focus instead on how unity and common feeling are strong enough to override and to arise from the most extreme of conflicts.
One of the few disappointments in this otherwise cleverly crafted book is that, in 2017, the only female characters, in this story for young males, are either madonnas or blackmarket racketeering whores.