CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 1. . . .September 9, 2016
A Dangerous Game. (Tales of War, Book 3).
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2016.
195 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-385-68307-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-385-68308-1 (ebook).
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Preparation – May 11-12, 1917
The bicycle ride home is a nightmare. Manfred’s uniform, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, lies like an accusation in my pannier, I cannot help remembering how excited he had been only that morning at the prospect of being sent away from the war. Had his family already been sent a letter announcing his imminent arrival? Instead of being on a train heading home, he’s lying in the cold morgue at the hospital – and it’s my fault.
I try to push the bleak thoughts from my mind, but I cannot. I had thought of spying as a way of stopping the war, of freeing my country, of reducing the number of mutilated soldiers sent to the hospitals where I worked. I had thought I would be the only one in danger; but’s it’s not that. This war seems to have a life of its own. It turns everyone it touches into a killer or a corpse.
Readers last met Manon Wouters in Dark Terror as she was nursing a Canadian soldier, Alec Shorecross, back to health in a military hospital on the Western Front. Just when Alec was about to declare his love for Manon, an emotion he believed would be reciprocated, Manon suddenly disappeared. A Dangerous Game provides the answer to why Manon vanished. She has been recruited by the British Directorate of Military Intelligence to become a spy, and her assignment is to return to her native country of Belgium and to take up a nursing post in the hospital in Bruges which is near her home town of Damme. There, she is to glean what military intelligence she can by overhearing the careless remarks made by the injured German soldiers and sailors under her care.
Wilson includes all the trappings that one would expect in find in a spy novel, things such as cover stories, codes, passwords, contacts, drop spots, and the ever-present possibility of betrayal. If Manon’s spying activities had been limited to just the hospital, the book might not have really lived up to its title, A Dangerous Game. However, Wilson amps up the danger Manon must confront.
Unlike World War II when Britain faced the real possibility of actually being invaded by German ground forces, in World War I, the biggest threats to Britain were aerial bombing and a sea blockade. Initially, the Germans used zeppelins to bomb Britain, but, as the war dragged on, these vulnerable airships were replaced by bigger and bigger aircraft, bombers capable of carrying increasingly larger explosive payloads. In past conflicts, sea blockades had been carried out by surface warships, but World War I saw the introduction of a new and lethal instrument of war, the submarine or U-boat.
To assist in responding to these threats to Britain, Manon is given two very dangerous missions. The first consists of two parts, with the initial portion involving her identifying and photographing what is being housed in the recently erected hangars at Gontrode. When Manon confirms that one of the hangars is to house a new giant German bomber, she is subsequently tasked with entering the site and igniting flares so that British bombers can locate the correct hangar target. Her final mission, one even riskier than what she faced at Gontrode, is to penetrate and photograph the U-boat pens located at the Bruges docks, with these actions to occur while the British are conducting a nighttime bombing raid on the harbor.
An added element Wilson deftly weaves into the story involves Manon’s family. Manon’s father was one of three men from Damme who had been executed by the Germans in retaliation for someone unsuccessfully trying to shoot a German soldier. It was her father’s death that fuelled Manon’s hatred of the Boche. Manon, along with British Military Intelligence, had anticipated that her younger brother, Florien, who is a forced worker at the docks, would be an asset in Manon’s “dangerous game”. However, when Manon first arrives home, she is surprised to discover a greatly changed Florien. Despite his father’s death at the hands of the Germans, Florien has become someone who actually admires the German war machine. But Florien houses a secret, one which is not revealed until the book’s conclusion.
As was the case with the previous two books in the “Tales of War” series, A Dangerous Game is organized chronologically, in this instance from September 3, 1916, to May 12, 1917, with a date forming part of each chapter’s title.
Wilson’s concluding “Author’s Note” clarifies which aspects of the plot are based on fact and which were his invention. Contributing to the novel’s sense of reality are 15 black and white period photos. A closing “Glossary” defines or explains 31 terms from “Boche” to “Zeppelin”.
Overall, A Dangerous Game is a strong, engaging read. While perhaps desirable, it is not necessary for readers to have read Dark Terror in order to enjoy this historical fiction novel. Fans of the “Tales of War” series will wonder where it will go next. Wings of War took readers into the air war while Dark Terror and the current novel dealt with two aspects of the ground war. Perhaps readers will find themselves aboard a ship on the Atlantic Ocean as those U-boats have yet to be defeated.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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