Top critical review
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Loved the aircraft, hated the plot and characters
on July 29, 2006
This is a pastiche of aviation stories, glued together with a plot and characters. The aviation stories are interesting and, like the novels of Nevil Shute or Ernest K. Gann, give intriguing glimpses into the development of aviation--jet aviation in Boyne's case.
But there is a story.
And the story is awful.
Probably Herman Wouk was not the first writer to set up a plot in which a father and two sons are conveniently all in the military at wartime. Upton Sinclair's Lanny Budd could only be in one place at one time. Wouk's fictional family, able to be in three places at the same time, could manage to appear at all the significant events of World War II history. Boyne uses precisely the same device. I don't say he stole it from Herman Wouk. But I do say I was constantly reminded of "The Winds of War."
The plot and characters are wooden. The references to sex are embarrassing. ("The long drives down Route 101, crossing the border at San Ysidro and then having a drink at the 'Long Bar' in Tiajuana[sic], were a magic preparation for their long nights of intensive, inventive sex.") They read as if a 1950s writer were trying to imitate a shockingly frank 1960s blockbuster because he had heard that sex sells.
The character Madeline's mysterious secret is annoying when revealed.
The worst problem is not knowing which of the aircraft detail is real and which is fictional. Ernest K. Gann was not averse to saying bad things about real aircraft types, but apparently Boyne's "Massey Dual Quad" is fictional. I think. If it is an aircraft-a-clef I don't know what real aircraft it is supposed to be reminding us of.
There is also a 20-20 hindsight problem, as when a character comments that "the only chance Boeing would have to catch up is if something happens to the Comet..." and when Vance feels that something is just not quite right with the square corners of the Comet's windows.
Incidentally, I don't know what the historic von Ohain's attitude toward Naziism was, but in the book he wrings his hands over and over about how terrible it was and how much he hated having to work for the Nazis ("Yes, that was my He S 011. Four years of development went into it. But I'm glad that it never went into a Nazi warplane) that I began to think that Ohain, or Boyne, doth protest too much.
In terms of fiction-writing skill, Boyne is no worse than Dan Brown--but that's not much of compliment.
Despite its defects as a novel, I think anyone who likes aviation fiction will like this book.