Friday, November 12, 2004

Robert Ryan: The Blue Noon

You will have gathered by now (if you've been paying attention) that I am particularly interested in novels which are set in the second world war. There are several reasons for this. One is that I was born in 1939 and can therefore actually remember the war (and that is what it was always called -- the war); and another is that I have written a novel set in that time myself (Beautiful Lady), written under the pen-name Patrick Read.

So that explains how I came to be reading Robert Ryan's The Blue Noon.

Ryan has published six novels so far, all of them thrillers (for want of a better term). Ryan himself seems to be English: born in Liverpool, lives in north London, writes for various magazines and newspapers when not doing novels. His first three books were set in America, for some reason which I do not understand, but perhaps connected with the idea that the market is bigger over there. Then he discovered world war II, or thereabouts. Early One Morning was firmly set in that era, and makes fictional use of some real-life characters, now deceased. And The Blue Noon does the same.

The central character is Harry Cole. And Harry is, according to the publisher's blurb, a rogue. There are other words for such a person. Small-time crook; con-man; thief; chancer; first-class shit; someone who looks after number one and fuck everybody else.

Harry, in other words, is not someone you might immediately and instinctively like; not when you know the truth about him. And it is a tribute to Ryan's narrative skills that he does make us care about Harry.

Harry Cole was very much a real person, and The Blue Noon features quite a number of other historical figures, either doing what they actually did in real life, or doing fictional things. This is a tricky technique to handle. I have done it myself and can testify to that.

I don't know what rule of thumb Robert Ryan adopted when using real-life personages in this way, but for my part I decided that it would be unfair to paint historical figures as any blacker than they actually were. This, for me, did not create any particular problems, because the people I was dealing with -- Ribbentrop, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Joe Kennedy, for example -- were all people who were adept at coating themselves with whitewash during their lifetime, but who, when you scrape off the layer of whitewash, proved to be such absolute shits that it would be hard to oversell their villainy.

Anyway, back to The Blue Noon. In my eyes, this is an exceptionally well written book, particularly in the early chapters. It constitutes a considerable improvement on its predecessor, which I discussed on 9 June.

At the end of the book, Ryan lists the books which he has used as sources. This is very sensible of him. I have done the same. And one just has to hope, of course, that none of the historians, either professional or amateur, who have written the source books, will take any exception to the way one has freely adopted and adapted their work.

The Blue Noon is thoroughly recommended.

Robert Ryan has his own web site with lots more interesting information.


sweetie said...

The Blue noon was very interesting and very well written. I must say that the end wasnt my favorite thing but i wont give it away. i recommend this book to anyone who likes to read and learn about the war. The book always keeps you on the edge of your seat and it is one of those books you just dont want to put down

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Darby Allen said...

Lack of research in at least one case: Cpl Dacre did not serve in Malaysia - there was then no such place.
Poor continuity. We are told that Harry is in France in April 1940, six months after rejoining at the recruiting office in the Strand. He rejoined the army, then, in October 1939. But he was promoted sgt on 2 Sep 39, the month before he actually signed on again!