Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"BLUE DEVIL ISLAND" by Stephen Mark Rainey

Period pieces are often a crapshoot. Odds are that you're going to end up with an unauthentic-seeming story from an overenthusiastic writer, or an overly detailed era manual that lacks anything approaching an interesting story.

Then there are times when you get the best of both worlds.

Blue Devil Island by Stephen Mark Rainey takes place during World War II. The "Blue Devils," a Naval squadron of F65-3 Hellcat fighters, led by Lieutenant Commander Drew McLachlan, is sent to a small island in the South Pacific to run air patrols over naval missions in the area. They stage their attacks from a fairly impromptu marine base on what is known as Conquest Island. The story is told by McLachlan, who leads his courageous and talented pilots out on various missions to take on the enemy. However, between their missions, they come to realize that something far more sinister than any Japanese Zero may be inhabiting Conquest Island.

I'll tell you the truth: when I looked at the first page of this book and saw the roster for the Blue Devils, I was a little overwhelmed. The thought of having to keep track of the names of over two-dozen pilots had me more than a little wary right from the get-go.

But I pressed on.

When the pilots arrived on the island, and even more names were thrown out via the marines already stationed there, I was beginning to wonder if I'd need a note card with all the names on it to use as a bookmark. Soon, however, I realized that I had nothing to fear. As it turns out, there are about five or six "primary" Devils to keep track of, and only three or four marines... and Rainey makes it easy. His development of each of the men is nowhere near cookie cutter, and you soon come to know each of the main characters well enough to really care about what's happening to them. The lead, Drew McLachlan, is an everyman, and intensely likeable.

As to the dogfights, aircraft operations, and general military information: Rainey really, really knows what he's talking about... or, if he doesn't, then he sure fooled me. There was enough information to put me in the moment, but I wasn't overwhelmed by it. I never once doubted that the author knew exactly what he was writing about, and as such, I gave myself over to the story entirely.

The story itself is wonderful. I haven't had this much FUN reading a book in a long time. I was right there on the edge of my chair during the flight missions, ducking and juking along with the pilots, and I was biting my nails as the more sinister elements of the island itself came into play.

I'll say it again: "FUN!" This book was an intensely fun read that I can't recommend highly enough. Adventure. Great humor. Undercurrents of unsettling suspense and whallops of terror, this one had everything I wanted from it. And more.

Check this book out, and be sure to take a gander at Mark's official site HERE.

Rated 5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on June 18th, 2007)

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