The Last Boat

Written by John F Handley
Review by Sue Ellison

This is the second in a planned series set around the time of the Second World War featuring Jack Renouf, a nineteen-year-old farmer’s son from Jersey. The novel starts a few weeks after the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk (Dunkerque) in 1940. Many British soldiers are still trapped on the French coast and Jack is helping crew a boat that is ferrying stranded troops and French civilians trying to escape the Germans, to the converted liner, Lancastria, waiting to take them to England. The first few scenes are especially dramatic as the Lancastria is bombed by German planes and sinks with the loss of thousands of lives, a real historical event. Jack and his fellow crew-members escape the destruction and make their way to Jersey which is then awaiting the German invasion of the Channel Islands. Jack is confronted by new dangers and needs to combine his seamanship and swimming skills with quick thinking under pressure in the days that follow, but finds himself rather less able to cope with his conflicting feelings for two young women.

This novel is written for young adults but deals with adult themes and does not pull punches over the horrific consequences of being caught up in war especially for Jack’s own family. The divisions within the Jersey population on response to the threat of invasion provide a good contrast to the action scenes. Overall an exciting read, although at times the numerous references to events in the previous book, Against the Tide, are distracting – I’d have liked a lighter touch, recapitulating only what’s vital to the story, and hope that the third book doesn’t  retell the first two.

The book is well presented, and the author’s notes and chronology provide a useful guide to how real-life events have been incorporated.