Against the Tide
The Island of Jersey in the Summer of 1939: 18 Year old Jack Renouf is finishing his schooldays. His main concerns are deciding on romance between two very different girls and deciding on his future. A good student, he is likely to end up at Oxford. That said, he is a fine swimmer and also in training for a possible Olympic place. His coach – a Jewish refugee called Miko has many training techniques, and a secret past; the islanders are suspicious of him. He is not the only one with secrets. Jack’s father forbids him to associate with his uncle, Fred – a communist who fought in Spain and is still active In the struggle against fascism. However with war looming, the Island is not such a peaceful idyllic location and Jack becomes aware of a plot to smuggle industrial grade diamonds into Nazi Germany, apparently with the involvement of some Island officials. Fred involves him in the efforts to stop this plot and Jack in thrown into an adventure involving sabotaging boats and spying on suspected agents.
An interesting approach to an adventure series orientated around a war. Usually the hero will be a soldier or warrior (Sharpe for example). Having a Olympic swimmer candidate is a fairly unique way to start. Handley has a bunch of interesting characters here – they are well fleshed out and very different from each other. Jack and Saul seem a little arrogant slightly pompous schoolboys at first – often quoting Shakespeare but then again many bright 18 year olds can come across as a bit pompous and full of themselves so this is very believable. Although I know a fair amount about World War 2, I knew almost nothing about the Channel Islands on the eve of war. Nor did I know much about Water Polo, swimming or diving. Having read this book I am now certainly better educated about these areas. If I had a criticism I found some of the political discussions between Jack and Fred somewhat academic and dry, and was glad when we returned to the action. This might reflect more on myself – I am not very interested in politics and discussions about class struggles or the background of communism vs fascism, but to be fair to the author we needed some information to understand why Jack and his uncle became involved in a diamond smuggling plot in the first place.
That minor view aside, the book is easy to read, well edited and well laid out. The story should appeal to people who like wartime stories but are looking for a different hero.