Sometimes you come across a great image in a book, one that you know will stay with you. It is 1940 and the
Germans have invaded Britain and won. In the back of a captured German staff car, Queen Elizabeth (who we later came to know
as the Queen Mother) is firing a revolver back at pursuing Germans. She is resplendent with a pink eye-patch over her right
eye, an eye she lost in a raid on Buckingham Palace, a raid in which her husband, the King, died.
Now, if a book can come up with an image like that, don't you want to read it?
This is, as can be seen from the above, an alternative history of the Second World War. This is, of course,
not a new idea, but what I like about this one is the sheer exuberance with which it is written. Mr Oldham obviously obtained
a great deal of pleasure out of it. He is a Canadian, so naturally enough the heroes of his book are, in the main, Canadian,
but why not? At least they're not Americans, for which we should be grateful.
The book is somewhat episodic and Oldham jumps from action to action almost as if he wrote a much longer
book and has edited out chunks of it to present us with what we have in hand. Thus we start with John Stafford, a 17-year-old
Canadian "doing" Europe, getting employed to spy on the Nazis and, in the process, preventing an assassination of the Crown
Prince of Romania. He also stops some Italian submarine saboteurs. Later, when war breaks out, he enrols and later becomes
a Commando. He rescues the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, about to be crowned King and Queen by the Nazis, from the Tower of
London, together with the last Yeoman and 4 Ravens.
Does this all sound something like a Boy's Own adventure? That is not at all surprising, for that
is just how it struck me, and it was no worse for that. This book is, from beginning to end, just plain good fun and I, for
one, found that peculiarly refreshing.
There are some nice ideas in this book as well though. My favourite was Pearl Harbour doesn't happen and
America enters the war, not when Germany invades Britain, but when they invade the Republic of Ireland, which is being used
as a source of arms for the British Resistance under Queen Elizabeth and led by Oliver Wingate. How perfectly logical is that?
If I have a complaint with the book, it's with the last 40 pages. These consist of an extensive list of characters
and a glossary of terms. These were obviously created or researched by Oldham in his probably extensive development of this
book. This is fine and I actually found them quite interesting. My problem is that some of the characters, in particular,
seem almost better developed in the list than they were in the body of the work. I think the author could have better used
these 40 pages in adding to and filling in gaps in his actual story.
That said, I will still say that this was a fun, entertaining read and, if it left me with nothing else,
at least now whenever I see film of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, smiling and waving, I can see her with a pink eye-patch,
shooting, accurately of course, at her and our enemies. Bravo!