Autumn, 1940, and the Luftwaffe is firebombing London, a capital rendered virtually defenseless by a legacy of appeasement and governmental incompetence. Jack Finlay, a young man already notorious for his capacity to fight fires, and men, is hauled reluctantly back from his artillery unit in the Western Desert. Finlay's Liverpool past is murky but London needs him now - no questions asked - to wage an elemental battle on streets made strange by the scale of the destruction.
His task is to do all he can to prevent five buildings vital to Britain's war effort from being engulfed. But resources are scarce, the mood bleak and Finlay himself suspicious about the real motive for the mission charged him by his enigmatic Whitehall taskmaster, Captain Grey. And then Finlay falls in love with a woman as unorthodox as he is: a wartime liaison as improbable as it is intense, which makes him vulnerable.
With a cynical eye and a tender heart, this taut, tantalizing novel tracks a dangerous intelligence game, and spotlights with a rare and telling force the indiscriminate path of war and fire through ordinary lives.
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Francis Cottam was born in Southport, Merseyside, in 1957. A full-time journalist, he has lived and worked in London for the last twenty years. This is his first novel.
At the peak of the London blitz, Jack Finlay is summoned from the African front to join an obscure British intelligence unit. Overlooking his somewhat shady past, the group has tapped Jack for his expertise as a fearless fire fighter. His assignments are to guard five strategically located buildings in the heart of London and respond with everything he can muster should any one of them fall prey to Hitler's nightly onslaughts. His quarters are in an underground bunker, where he waits each night for a solitary phone to ring as bombs explode above him. It's a strange life, but stranger still are his brethren, one of whom Jack believes to be a German spy. But he's a novice at this intelligence game and is fearful of tipping his hand to any of his colleagues. So he tends his buildings by day and drinks whatever he can find as he waits for the phone to ring at night. Needing a bit of normalcy, he falls in love with the curator of one of his buildings, only to find that she is the daughter of its eccentric German architect. Is she also a spy? The characters are a bit thin, but this debut novel by London journalist Cottam blends a very sharp sense of the chaos of the London blitz with the tender emotions of a people trying desperately to cling to the comfortable monotony of everyday life. Another addition to the recent wave of novels (e.g., Andrew Grieg's The Clouds Above) looking back at the horror of World War II from the new millennium, it is recommended for special fiction collections on that conflict and larger fiction collections. Susan Clifford Braun, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA
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Book Description Random House, London, United Kingdom, 2002. Soft cover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # 023093