So call me a philistine, but whilst I find history fascinating I find it easier to take on board when it’s folded in to a bit of frothy romance. Perhaps it’s just the lack of brain power caused by continuing sleep deprivation, but I do like my facts well-blended with a bit of fiction and that’s exactly what I got in Jo Eames’ novel, ‘Not Only The Good Boys’.
The book tells the story of (fictional) injured Commando, Lieutenant Mike Dixon when he gets posted to an admin position working for the maverick Major General Hobart, who, during the period in which the book is set, lived in the house in Oxfordshire which the author now inhabits. Not many people will have heard of Major Hobart (Hobo) or his peculiar modifications to various tanks that were nicknamed collectively as ‘Hobo’s Funnies’, yet many historians believe it was entirely due to these wacky machines that the Allied Forces were successful in storming the beaches during the D-Day invasions.
Over the course of the novel you are taken through the struggles Hobart faces in getting funding and acceptance for his concepts from the War Office, yet he is very much a background secondary figure – and storyline – to the primary one of a frustrated romance between Dixon and the glamorous ATS driver of Hobo’s car, former debutante Charlie Carrington. With the attention primarily focused on this most-human of stories, Eames manages to cleverly slip through some rather technical descriptions of the ‘Funnies’, not to mention some of the political wrangling going on behind the scenes in the lead up to the invasions – facts that were rendered all the more interesting to me by reading them over the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
The characters are strong and well drawn, with witty and realistic dialogue and engaging relationships. Whilst tragic events occur within the narrative, the author doesn’t linger over them in a maudlin manner, but touches on them lightly as just some terrible events amongst a great many more occurring: something that actually adds to the horror when you think back on it later. I don’t want to give away too many plot details, but the tragedy that occurs during a training event was drawn entirely from real life and only came to light years later for reasons of morale. The thought of it is still haunting me a couple of weeks later.
There really is nothing negative I can say about this book. In fact, as a mark of my esteem, I even passed it onto my mum to read, knowing that I would get it in the neck if she considered it below par, but I can gladly pass on her recommendations also. Normally very wary of self-published novels, I am glad that this one bucks the trend and is not just very readable and engaging, but also appears to have been properly proofed and edited (in our neighbouring Gloucestershire, no less).
Something that I’ve never really considered judging in a novel before was the quality of the paper, but this book seems to have been printed on particularly nice stuff – thicker than your average, creamy smooth to the touch with really clear printing: a bonus, perhaps, for those like my mum who need to don spectacles in order to read. My Cornish colleague, Rachel, might be glad to hear that it was printed in her neighbourhood – and a lovely job they seem to have made of it, too. It’s only since I took on the job of Local Editor that I’ve been considering provenance of goods in the way that I have, and I was surprised to realise that this is the first book that’s been sent to me for review where the fully British (or English, even) production of the novel has been a selling point that was emphasised, but there it is: an English novel, written in Oxfordshire, about an Oxfordshire man, set in Yorkshire, Oxfordshire, London and Suffolk, proofed and edited in Gloucestershire and printed in Cornwall.