Sea rescue

One of my least favourite Hitchcock films is Lifeboat. Famously filmed featuring just one set, it was a claustrophobic film, and, I think, suffered from being stuck in one setting. So, when I started to read John Harris' The sea shall not have them I wondered if I was going to have the same feelings about that.

The sea shall not have them was the motto of the Air Sea Rescue Service. Harris' novel follows the crew and passengers of an RAF plane returning from a mission with a suitcase of secret papers. Shot down over the North Sea and stranded in a dinghy heading towards the coast of Europe, air-sea rescue craft are scrambled to try to find the survivors and their vital information. Partly set in the dinghy of the downed crew, partly on the rescue ships and planes that are sent to find them, this is a great action thriller. The sometimes slightly slow pacing reflects the torpor of the crew stuck in limbo in the North Sea, but Harris is great both at ratcheting up the action and slowing down when necessary.

His characterisation is great too. Never sentimental, he gets inside the minds of the men - many very young, virtually all plucked unexpectedly from civilian life into the dangerous life of a service, whose crews consistently risk their lives to save others. Generally it's a fantastic tribute to the, often overlooked, work of the air-sea rescue people of the Second World War. There's one historical clanger - a mention of the atom bomb pre-1945 - but other than that historically it seems to be very accurate.

Realistic, exciting and well-written. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Funnily enough too it reminded me of what a small world it is. I once met a guy on a blind date; we were chatting about family, and discovered that both of us had Dads who had served in the RAF in World War II. I mentioned that mine had spent time in Calcutta, date looked surprised and said that his Dad had flown Catalinas out of the Bay of Bengal on air-sea rescue for the RAF. My Dad had told me about watching the Catalinas take-off. It's very likely that our fathers had met. Sadly both were dead by the time George and I met, so too late to ask them.

Read The sea shall not have them. It's a great tribute to some very brave men.


Shaz said…
I've never seen Lifeboat, but in fifth grade I read The Raft, a true story about a couple of WWII airmen adrift in the Pacific. It left a lasting impression on me. This one sounds like it would also be a memorable read so I added it to my lengthy TBR list.
Book-hound said…
I think you probably would enjoy this. Author spent time in the forces during the war, so a lot of this was written from experience.

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