A British teenager connives his way into the Royal Navy during World War II in this debut novel.
After the German occupation of Poland, Britain officially declares war, forcing teenager Eddie Roberts from the London area to the countryside. He lives there begrudgingly until he makes the acquaintance of a young woman named Barbara Lewis. But then Eddie’s mother comes to fetch him home at his dying older brother’s request. Eddie returns to find that air raid shelters are being built for safety, and that his family is suffering financially. He takes the entrance exam for the Royal Navy College and passes, but his mother forbids his matriculation. However, he forges a birth certificate so that he can enlist nevertheless, inspired by a desire to travel the globe and also to find his friend, Jack Barrette, who was lost in the war. Eddie distinguishes himself with his bravery, but he’s injured during a torpedo strike on his vessel. He’s later selected for a secretive search-and-destroy mission in the Far East—a task he relishes as an opportunity to find Jack. However, he’s captured and kept at a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Thailand. Rhodes’ novel is, at its core, an adventure story: Eddie’s heart is so filled with wanderlust that it’s hard for readers to imagine him settling down, even in a time of peace. The author also stirringly captures the dawning reality of war for those on the homefront—particularly how the hope of averting disaster is swiftly replaced with brave resignation. But although the writing is frequently entertaining, Eddie almost exclusively communicates in witty quips and one-liners, which not only becomes tiresome, but also results in some overwritten dialogue. For example, when a girlfriend, Anita Barrett, tells him goodbye by saying, “You were the one who taught me how to fly, and were an excellent teacher,” he responds with an even sillier line: “Maybe so, but Peter Pan’s only flying on one wing, and has some growing up left to do.”
A historically astute story with a memorable protagonist, undermined by overdone dialogue.