My brother-in-law, Baz, said I had to read this book. I managed to find it on Amazon for the amazing price of £1.19, including post and packing. What a bargain! Though, having read it, I have to say I'd have paid
full price for this book, it's a great read.
Set in an English village, home for the duration of World War 2 to a US airforce base, the book has a somewhat
disturbing first chapter which, while introducing the reader to a number of potentially interesting characters, had an ending steeped (quite literally) in gore. This, combined with very full descriptions of flying missions (author Robert Radcliffe
was himself a pilot so these descriptions ring with authenticity) made me wonder, early on, if I was going to enjoy the book.
But gradually the story of the crew of Flying Fortress Misbehavin'
Martha, claimed me completely. Led by pilot Matt Hooper "Hoop" the crew must complete 24 dangerous bombing missions over enemy territory before they can call it a day and return to their homeland having been deemed to have "done their bit".
But this is 1943 and the attrition rate is frighteningly huge. Their chances of making it through are desperately slim. Hoop has his own cross to bear - he believes himself responsible for the death of the first crew he commanded. He dedicates himself to trying
to secure the safety of Martha's crew and gradually builds them into a cohesive, close and comradely band of brothers. Quite a feat, because it was this crew whose first ever mission was reported in that gory first chapter I mentioned above -
described, chillingly, as "from milk-run to blood-bath in a couple of seconds." Hoop has his work cut out for him.
The book interlinks the fragile lives of the airmen with the more mundane
lives of the villagers of Bedenham. There is the local school teacher, Heather, whose husband is missing and who falls in love with Hoop. And a street-wise young evacuee, Billy, who is "adopted" by the airmen and makes a few extra shillings by meeting
their needs for bicycles and - too strange not to be true! - pet cats. Robert Radcliffe is a born story-teller and manages to create well-rounded and believable characters among both air crews and villagers.
Some of the reviews of this book I have read have dismissed the ending as being trite and unbelievable. I have to say I loved it. I wanted to know what happened to all the characters I had grown to know and love. I needed to know, for sure, what
happened to Misbehavin' Martha. And, after reading of so much death and destruction in the skies above England, France and Germany as these brave airmen fought for their lives and their country - well, I felt I (and they) deserved
a happy ending.