France, 1916. The Great War. High above the carnage in the trenches, British and German aces joust like knights of old for control of the skies. The strain and tension of living every day on the edge of death leads to dangerous choices and wild risks. When British ace Bat Bryant’s past catches up with him, he strikes out in panic and kills the man threatening him with exposure. But there’s a witness: the big, handsome American pilot Cowboy Cooper.
Cowboy, it seems, has his own ideas of rough justice.
It’s the middle of World War 1 and the Allies are fighting the Germans for supremacy in the skies. The book opens when our flyboy hero, Captain Bat Bryant, accidentally kills Orton, a mechanic on his team who was attempting to blackmail him. Unfortunately there was a witness to the incident, Cowboy Cooper, another flying ace, who demanded his own forfeit from Bat for keeping quiet and getting rid of the body. Two days later Cowboy moved in for the “kill” and Bat never had a chance against someone as sexually experienced as Cowboy who, it appeared, had had his eye on Bat for a while. Bat is still shell shocked, heartbroken and grief stricken because the man with whom he was in love, Gene, another Aviator, had just been shot down and he was finding it difficult to say goodbye even though he knew that his own chances of surviving the war were slim and none.
When Cowboy made love to Bat, to say that Bat was surprised at his reactions during sex was an understatement. He had never been friends with Cowboy and had not had any thoughts about him other than being appreciative that he had saved his life several times by holding off the Germans whenever Bat was in trouble on their many reconnaissance missions. After the first time with Cowboy Bat swore never to let it happen again but Cowboy had that Yankee charm going, and Bat found he was falling more and more under his spell. Suddenly it seemed that this “thing” with Cowboy was becoming a lot less like coersion and a lot more like an affair with tender feelings. Did Bat really see Cowboy’s hold on him as a threat or did he welcome it and use the perceived threat as an excuse because he was finding the sex exciting and erotic, something he had never had with Gene? The fact that death flew on his wings every day obviously intensified Bat’s feelings, but more to the point Cowboy’s charisma was having a significant impact on his emotions, which he hated because it made him seem weak.
I have to say at this point that I read Josh Lanyon’s books mainly for his characters and the mysteries, not for the sex, because he usually has about 2 sex scenes per book and those are almost always pretty tame compared to other M/M books. In Out of the Blue there were several sex scenes between the two protagonists and I thought the author showed quite a different range, with more tenderness and style. In the midst of these little erotic interludes, interspersed with all the excitement and stress of their daily incursions into enemy territory, Bat received some bad news which had the potential of ending his career in disgrace and dishonour – Orton’s body had been found by the French and the evidence of foul play was clear. If he is one of the suspects, will Cowboy fly to his rescue once again?
From the first page I felt part of the action in this story which never let up. Men were dying all around Bat and Cowboy and it seemed that young replacements barely had a chance to experience their first flight before they were history. The average life expectancy of an Allied Aviator was 11 days and no one defied those odds forever – some of the guys were still in their teens when they showed up for their first assignment, and they were dead in less than a week, before they had a chance to grow up and experience life. Bat was just 23 years old but as a Captain of RAF No. 44 Air Squadron he was responsible for his men’s lives and at times his job was a heavy burden. The only member of the group who was confident he would come out of the war alive and return home was the irrepressible Cowboy. Somehow I believed that he would make it.
Have you ever felt so immersed in a book that it seemed you were part of the action? Out of the Blue will have that effect on you. The adrenalin of the suicide flights, the courage displayed by the airmen in rescuing their comrades while under heavy fire, the firefights in the air, the drone of the aircraft, the crashes as planes went down in flames with their pilots still shooting at the enemy, the camaraderie among the pilots – the battles were all too exciting at times!! The era seems to have been accurately described by Lanyon – the music (“Roses of Picardy” was a favourite as the guys sang along with the gramophone), the atmosphere, the clothing, the speech were all wonderfully depicted and there wasn’t anyone who was a caricature. Of all the characters in this book the most remarkable and memorable was Cowboy who made Bat seem like a pale reflection, even though Bat was the captain in charge of this band of flying aces and was just as brave. Cowboy was the outsider since most of the other officers were Brits who had been at Eton together, and if they weren’t old school chums at least they had the facade of class and breeding, and they tended to look down on the American who was not part of their inner circle. The secondary characters were all well drawn but they had so little face time before they bought it that it was difficult to get to know them.
This is such a wonderful story that you will read it again and again and again. Despite its theme of war and death the book is quite funny in parts as well as uplifting.
Out of the Blue will appear in Esprit de Corps, an MLR Press military anthology due out in September, 2009.