© 2010 James Holland
It’s déjà vu all over again. Sergeant Jack Tanner, only recently arrived back in England from the doomed British defense of Norway, has been sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force – only to find the BEF forced to conduct a fighting retreat, let down by French allies who are led by old men paralyzed by indecision and stupefied by Blitzkrieg. To make matters worse, an old enemy and Cain-like brother in arms named Blackstone is his company sergeant major, and he’s arguably more dangerous than the Wehrmacht – at least, to Tanner, who has a talent for small-arms action that makes The Darkest Hour a superb work of military fiction.
I was introduced to Tanner via The Odin Mission last year, thanks to Cyberkitten’s tip, and enjoyed it so much that I sent for the other two books from England itself, and enjoyed it enormously – appreciating the way Holland made his hero Tanner confront personal and military challenges at the same time, by having him fight continually with an absolute ass of a French ally while their isolated group attempted to make its way through the Norse winter and avoid falling into the hands of Hitler’s army. That formula is replicated nicely here, and suffers nothing for it: again, Jack’s group is cut off from the main body of troops, this time because they attempt to save an incredibly ungrateful crashed airmen, and Tanner is continually sabotaged, undermined, and outright attacked by a malicious, cowardly, and criminally industrious officer who knows Tanner is a threat to his career and blackmarket schemes. To make things more interesting, there’s a very embittered Waffen-SS major who Tanner’s men succeed in humiliating by knicking four trucks from under their noses, and then taking POWs – and he’s out for revenge, nevermind the whole establishment of the Aryan world empire thing.
Darkest Hour made for excellent reading, especially since I’m familiar with the evacuation at Dunkirk but not of the often confusing retreat that led to it. Holland’s subtle use of little historic details (the peppering of slang, enough to add flavor but not enough to make the reader conscious of it), imminently sympathetic and admirable main character, and the varied action all work to make this a solid hit. The SS-man borders on being an over-the-top villain, but this is the SS. If you’re wearing comically evil skull and crossbones and black uniforms, you can be an over-the-top villain.
Glad you enjoyed it. Its a cracking little series and Tanner is a great British hero in true ‘Boys Own’ fashion. I really must get around to finishing this series @ some point!
I’d started his third book not realizing Darkest Hour came first…may finish it this month! I don’t think he’ll rival Cornwell (not as funny), but he’s definitely going to be a keeper.
The sequence is:
Sergeant Jack Tanner
1. The Odin Mission (2008)
2. Darkest Hour (2009)
3. Blood of Honour (2010)
4. Hellfire (2011)
5. The Devil’s Pact (2013)
Just 4 & 5 left for me – although I own neither ATM.