Too Many Heroes by Jan Turk Petrie – a post war thriller with real impact

 

In 1952 Britain was still a disturbed place, with criminal interests, wartime mistakes and social pressures. This thriller brilliantly immerses the reader in a post war world through the eyes of Frank, who has several guilty secrets. As he does temporary jobs and leaves suddenly, he seems resigned to living a life on the move, with hints of his past. This world is typified by dirty side streets, smoke filled pubs and dubious characters. The summer heat is relentless in the centre of London as pennies are eked out for small treats, and a fake beach attracts so many. Relationships are somehow bitter and fearful. The research behind this book is impeccable and the realisation of the themes is so convincing as to draw in the reader, especially as the tension ratchets up with accusations of guilt forming a significant element of the book. As Frank moves around London it is almost as if a camera follows him, and Grace’s small actions contribute to a sense of her character. This is a book of deep feeling anchored in harsh circumstances, and the writing really made me care about the outcomes for the characters. I felt really involved in this narrative, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.

 

The book opens in June 1942, when Frank is in the rear turret of a British bomber plane. While returning from a raid, the plane is hit and everyone is in danger, and Frank is especially vulnerable in a nearly separate section of the aircraft. The plane is trying to land as the prologue length section ends. We next see Frank nearly ten years later, sleeping in a barn and working hard on a farm. He has changed his name and finds himself in conflict with a gamekeeper, who mysteriously suffers a life changing injury just as Frank chooses to move on. The scene moves to a house where Grace is dealing with her difficult mother. She resolves to return to London, despite her realisation that her husband’s letter asking her to return is less than genuine. Frank is working hard in a pub, running the bars as the landlord Dennis finds other things to do. When Grace returns to the pub they feel a mutual attraction, and amidst the shabby and grey rooms they inhabit they begin to act on it. Frank’s bravery and quick thinking draws attention to him in a not altogether positive way; he begins to think of disguises and varying his routine. As Dennis’ actions cause tension, it begins to feel that London is a dangerous place.

 

I found this book enthralling and exciting, as it drew me in to a time of threat and unfairness in contrast to the notion of a jolly peace time. The author’s undoubted ability to create an atmosphere of threat from in depth research, a sense of place and a true understanding of character makes this a memorable read. The plot is well worked out and holds together in all details. I enjoyed the character of Grace particularly as she comes to realise the truth of her situation. This book dispels some of the illusions of a positive post war society, and I enjoyed its honesty. I recommend this to all fans of thrillers with real human characters in a historical setting.