Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Blue Devil Island

Compulsive book-buyers such as me frequently fall into the trap of buying too many books and accumulating an unmanageable To Be Read pile. Books we were eager to read end of getting push down in the list, and some take years to emerge at the top. When they turn out to be very good reads, we kick ourselves for waiting so long. Which brings us to Blue Devil Island, by Stephen Mark Rainey, whose name I know, but whose work I don’t remember reading.
Blue Devil Island is set in late 1943, in the Pacific Theatre of Operations of World War II. A squadron of Navy hellcats under the command of Drew “Athos” McLachlan has been deployed to a base on Conquest Island, a small atoll near Bouganville, there to engage Japanese air forces operating in and around the nearby islands. It is dangerous duty, and the men of Fighting Squadron 39 face death on every mission. But there is a menace more deadly than the Japanese enemy. The island is home to a strange and vicious race of natives, and is the prison for an ancient, eldritch horror. McClachlan and his comrades soon find themselves fighting not just for their country, but for the future of mankind.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a sucker for a weird war tale, and, as a former history professor, any author willing to delve into the past also catches my attention. Rainey has done a magnificent level of research on this book, far beyond my own knowledge. He accurately describes the workings of the aircraft, and such innovative tactics as the Thach Weave (vital in defeating the Japanese Zeroes, almost unknown today) and the Lofbery Circle. If he made mistakes in the historical details, it will take a better scholar than I to find them.

The supernatural aspect of the book is just as well done as the historical side of it. Most writers who try to invoke a Lovecraftian feel to a story get the tone all wrong, but Rainey nails it here. The sense of dread and the unknown slowly build. I was lying in bed last night trying to figure out what would happen next, and finally gave up, got out of bed and finished it, a good indication of how good the book is.

Rainey also does a good job in letting us get to know the characters. As some of them meet their inevitable demise, we feel the loss. It could be argued the book has a pulp adventure feel to it, but I don’t consider that a bad thing.

If the idea of Lovecraft crossed with John Wayne-style World War II action strikes your fancy, I’d advise you to give Blue Devil Island a try.

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