Written by Graham Hurley

Review written by Stephen Thornley

An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.

Head of Zeus
RRP: £18.99
Released: July 1 2017

In this riveting WWII thriller Flt Sergeant Billy Angell is busy trying to survive beyond his 30th mission after which he will get six months reprieve from the bombing campaign (working in training).

Billy Angell’s luck runs out on his final mission as his Lancaster Bomber is hit, killing the rear gunner and injuring the pilot. Somehow Billy assists the pilot to get the damaged bomber back home; but as he does so - he realizes his nerve has gone.

Meanwhile in the quiet of rural France Helene Lafosse is playing host to a varied bunch of house guests at her chateau not far from Tours. Helene’s Jewish husband Nathan, an art dealer has had to flee from the advancing Nazi forces. He has made it to safety in London leaving Helene in France to look after their property. She has taken a German Abwehr officer Klimt, as a lover in the hope he will offer some protection from the worst of the Nazi occupation. But, when SS officer Johann Huber wants the location of France's hidden art heritage, her lover Klimt offers her little help.

The forced privations and demands upon the population in wartime is always a difficult and unsettling subject. Helene and her guests are well detailed characters; their desperate struggles in survival highlight how grim and savage war is for civilians ensnared by conflict. Huber is a Nazi zealot, so he will use any lever he can to get what he wants from Helene. If she does not know of, or unwilling to disclose the hidden sites he will use her as a bargaining chip to get it from her husband.

Billy on two weeks leave in Devon realizes he doesn't understand the war or what he is fighting for, or his place in the conflict. His best friend Irene has been killed in a bombing raid. Before the war Billy was an actor while Irene was a famous star who had helped his career. She was also responsible for him becoming a Quaker, but now with Irene gone, his faith is very severely shaken and he questions where God is in War?

We are taken to some dark and lonely places in Billy's mind as he tries to deal with the damage and hurt he is going through. Then by chance Billy meets Don a barman at the Palmview Hotel and with his help and support, Billy finds a way back to hope and a future. After meeting Don, Billy's war takes an unexpected turn when he is summoned to a meeting with the mysterious Ursula.

Ursula works for Military Intelligence and has a mission in mind for Billy which would mean no more bombing missions. The paths of Billy and Helene cross when Billy is sent to France to lay false information about where the allied invasion will begin. He is delivered by the French Resistance to Helene’s chateau hoping she will take him in, and he can convince both her and the Germans of his story.

Mr Hurley is adept at creating a thrilling and desperate “fight for life” atmosphere. The quiet menace of the Nazi war machine settling over the French countryside can be felt in actions, conversations and the thoughts of the characters. Billy's mental trauma, his battles with nerves and his faith are described robustly highlighting the stresses and strains men like Billy faced daily.

It is no surprise that some would choose working as a counter intelligence officer risking their lives in occupied lands to the terrifying battles in the sky. This a superbly written spy thriller with expertly drawn sketches of both aerial bombing missions full of fear and tension, and that of life under wartime occupation with the unthinking acts of bravery of common ordinary people - just trying to live their lives.

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