Author: Ensan Case
Cover Artist: Alex Beecroft
Publisher: Cheyenne Publishing
Genre: Historical (1940s)/Action/Adventure/Romance
Length: 408 paperback pages
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: I was mesmerized by this book about the navy pilots during the Second World War and the love between two of them
Jack Hardigan’s Hellcat fighter squadron blew the Japanese Zekes out of the blazing Pacific Skies. But a more subtle kind of hell was brewing in his feelings for rookie pilot Fred Trusteau. As another wingman watches—and waits for the beautiful woman who loves Jack—Hardigan and Trusteau cut a fiery swath through the skies from Wake Island to Tarawa to Truk, there to keep a fateful rendezvous with love and death in the blood-clouded waters of the Pacific.
UPDATED REVIEW: Hi guys, as some of you may have heard before and as the blurb tells us, this book is being re-published by Cheyenne Publishing as an ebook and in print format, and I don’t know about you, but I cannot be happier! Now readers who are interested can at least afford to try it.
Because of this re-release, I was asked to update my review of this wonderful story. I read the ebook very carefully, and even skimmed my old — and expensive — paperback, wanting to see if there were significant content revisions done. While I did not have the energy to do a page-by-page comparison, I did not notice any differences, and if I am wrong, please correct me. Everything I loved about this book was still there. Accordingly my review is 95% the same as the previous one, except the warning to follow and a little expansion on one point. Also, I can see that the cover is different, this one done by Alex Beecroft; while I like this one better than the one which I had to copy on my initial review, I do not care for this one nearly as much as I love the cover on my paperback unfortunately. I guess I should say I love the top part of the old cover as it features what I consider the culmination point of the book, I do see how the lower part is a bit busy. But then I always love covers which feature a moment from the book. This one is not bad, and obviously they are pilots, but I like human stuff better than the technical one.
Now for the warning: there is a het sex scene in the book and it is right there on the first two pages of the book. Since I had purchased this book on my own, I completely forgot that we don’t review books with explicit het sex in them here and I neglected to include this information in my original review, mea culpa. Luckily Wave is a forgiving girl and she said “okay” about keeping the review up. Anyway, if m/f is not your cup of tea, you can skip right over it, or bypass the book altogether, though I think that is not necessary as it is such a small part.
Now on to the review…
I saw a review of this book on Erastes’ site and just knew that I had to read it no matter what. You know what they say about “be careful what you wish for”? Yeah, I may have regretted the “no matter what” part just a little bit when I saw that Wingmen [was] out of print and of course the Amazon third party sellers charge pretty inflated prices. But if you ask me whether the reading experience was worth it, I will answer that it was worth every penny.
This is a book about American navy pilots during the Second World War and the love between squadron commander Jack Hardigan and twenty-one-year-old ensign Fred Trusteau. The book has plenty of technical details about airplanes, the Navy, their training and fights with Japanese pilots. I have absolutely no idea whether it is correct, whether author had been in the military, whether he did good research or not. All that I know is that while some of the technicalities were lost on me, most of it sounded believable, interesting, exciting and fun. But if you are going to read this book primarily for action/adventure — and there is a plenty of it — I guess I am not qualified to tell you how authentic it is.
I have read a gazillion books about the Second World War, but mostly about the Great Patriotic War part of it. Those books differed from the books which had been polished by Soviet propaganda to realistic, gritty books written by writers who actually spent five years of that war in trenches fighting the Nazis and who certainly told as it is what the war really was like for soldiers and civilians. Such books were rarely allowed to be published in the Soviet Union before Perestroika times, but some were overlooked by censors even prior to that time.
However I still have not read many books about what the war was really like for American soldiers and I am filling that gap every opportunity I can when I know that the way a book is written will suit my tastes. It was very interesting for me to take a look at the soldiers who actually had a choice whether to participate in the war. No matter how different the perspective was, I get a book about every day heroes — very realistic, very matter of fact heroes — many of them very young men who took the jobs which included the possibility of dying every day simply because it was the right thing to do. I really liked most of them and of course since the war is a job here, in every job you have bureaucrats and idiot bosses, whom I could not help but want to send home the first chance I could.
But we also have Jack Hardigan, a professional pilot for whom the task of teaching his new hires — inexperienced pilots — as much as he can in the short time they spend teaching them. He wants to teach them disciplined flying, disciplined radio communications and just to make sure they know as much as possible in order to bring as many of them home alive as possible. I could not help but love Jack from the first page he appears on, when he has to battle stupid paperwork while he could spend his time doing more useful things.
The connection between him and talented young pilot Fred Trusteau is unmistakably clear on the page the moment he is transferred to Jack’s squadron, but it is also so very subtle. We do not hear them spending pages and pages agonizing about their feelings because they are too busy teaching and learning and practicing and actually fighting a war, but we do hear them and their feelings of love, which are stronger and stronger every time we read about it. It is in their actions and in their thoughts. I want to re-read this book and savor every sentence of it, because to me it was so well done.
“He would do anything for Jack Hardigan. But before he forced his mind back to serious business at hand, Fred wondered if the skipper felt anything at all for him. He couldn’t answer the question and a sad, lonely feeling clung to him all afternoon.”
But again, this sentence does not transform into pages and pages of angst, which I really appreciated. Their feelings happen in the in-between stages of training and fighting, and it is really quite well done.
It is also interesting how the author lets us know that Jack and Fred really do have similar personalities in some ways. They are both mostly well liked (except some people, of course), but the author notes at one point or another that Jack sometimes feels lonely when he is with his pilots and at some point in time we see that Fred has a moment of loneliness as well.
The POV switches between Jack , Fred and another pilot, who is Jack’s friend, Duane. I actually thought the switching was not shaky, and did not feel like head hopping to me at all. I thought it was quite elegantly done, actually, but your mileage may vary. I did wonder, though, what Duane’s motivations were for watching Jack and Fred and just needing to know? I guess that did confuse me a little bit, especially upon rereads. Jealousy of Fred? I did not think it was very clear from the narrative. Just general dislike of gay men? I did not feel that either.
And of course when their love reaches culmination point, I wanted to cry and cry.
Lastly, I do think that the Scrapbook chapter of the ending was an unnecessary extra, though, not because of what happens at the end, but because the letters and memos exchange style really did not work for me. I wish the book stopped in 1944 at its emotionally high point. I remember the reviewer at Erastes’ site and those on Amazon expressing similar a sentiment actually, but I am not copying them, I just feel the same way.