The Rescue Man

Written by Anthony Quinn
Review by Doug Kemp

This is first novel of Anthony Quinn, film critic of The Independent, and a most impressive debut it is. Liverpool 1939 and Tom Baines, an architectural historian, waits for the world to stumble into another ruinous conflict. Baines, who is a natural prevaricator and has delayed writing his book on the architectural heritage of Liverpool, is plunged into the horrors of the bombing raids on the city when he volunteers as a rescuer—someone who burrows into often dangerously teetering bombed buildings in an attempt to retrieve buried people from the rubble. He is certainly not unique in discovering that the war gives his life an immediate meaning and value that he has hitherto not appreciated. It is not just the exposure to daily danger, but he also embarks on a clandestine love affair with his best friend’s wife, Bella. Interspersed with this narrative are lengthy extracts from a manuscript diary of Peter Eames, a visionary Liverpool architect of the 1860s. Tom investigates his life and makes a surprising discovery at the conclusion of the book, which acts as an appropriate coda to his life and struggles. In the midst of the war, Tom is faced with the deaths of close colleagues and friends—some of which are perhaps just a little too obviously flagged up in advance. This is an intelligent and well-paced novel, however, and Quinn has a fine ear for language and penning original and shining similes. There are many, many novels written about the Second World War— this is a very good one.