on 7 July 2011
James Holland's Jack Tanner books have been compared to Commando comics, which is good news, for a start! But now that I've been through El Alamein with man of war Jack Tanner and his band of gritty Brits I have to say that Hellfire was a better experience than any Commando comic I've ever read, and I've read plenty.
We've got a feast here: gripping and accurate chunks of big-battle action, we're in at the start of SAS and SBS operations, we get a spot of old-fashioned class warfare, an education in how the military was run in the desert in WWII, and all woven round an intriguing spy yarn.
Two things I'm liking a lot about Holland. One is the continuity of pace. These days we've grown accustomed to Yank thrillers that deliver their stories in explosive little time-juggling breathless chunks. Mr Holland just gets down to the business in hand and by and large finishes what he starts before moving on. And he manages this without any noticeable loss of tension; it's a taut book, fit for active duty, no flab in it.
Then there are his characters, especially Jack Tanner. Now some say Jack comes across a bit wooden, and I know what they mean but I think they're wrong. I found Jack fitted the book and the times he's set in perfectly, he's as I expected him to be, a fictional war hero. I wanted someone I could respect and admire and share a spot of banter with, and who I could count on when the shells were falling and the bullets flying. Someone with a good old British sense of fair play but not a lot of time for Jerry and his antics. Jack fitted the bill, even if he's a little too good to be true.
On a purely personal level, I smoked my head off reading Hellfire. Supped a few beers, too. And I felt right at home because that's what most of the characters seem to be doing all through the book. How refreshingly real, none of this Hollywood-style politically correct painting out of unhealthy traits.
So now I feel well-placed to deliver a few informed opinions. As great British heroes go, I'm convinced Jack Tanner would have given Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond a good hiding. He's got a murderous right hook. Even Captain Hurricane would have a tough time. He'd have needed a violent "ragin' fury" upon him to even the odds. The good thing, though, is they were all on our side. No wonder we won wars!
As for Hellfire, what a terrific read! As rock-solid a bit of bloke reading a chap can lay his hands on. I've since rushed out and bought the rest of the Jack Tanner books, and I've got my tin hat handy for the next outing, which can't come soon enough. I'm just waiting for the call-up, Mr Holland.
And, by the way, so is my dad.
on 28 November 2011
I have enjoyed the series of Jack Tanner and in the latest outing for our hero i feel that he has come of age.In the first three books he has been on the back foot , as he has been with the retreating army as the Germans have had the upper hand, but in Hellfire the boot is on the other foot,as the tide of the WW11 is turning.The joy for me with James Holland is that not only do you get a rip roaring adventure from a superb historian who knows his stuff,but you also get a well researched page turner that leaves you wanting more. Now that he has been promoted and has another arrow to his bow with his intelligent work,his next outing can not come to soon for me.
There are very few writers producing anything of note for WW2 fiction reader at present, there are certainly very few who are doing it this well (Guy Saville and James Delingpole being the only notable exceptions)
As usual the books are well written with a pace that picks the reader up and carries you along with our heroes, the action is real and visceral, its written with a real passion for the subject and the characters. But with all this it still contains that element of boys own adventure that readers of Commando, Victor and Battle would have come to love and expect from their war stories, Heroes can still be Heroes here without all the sordid parts of the real world crowing in, leaving it real but idealistic at the same time.
Another excellent story from James Holland
Product Description (from back of book)
August, 1942.North Africa. The desert war hangs in the balance. Although their retreat has finally been halted, morale in the British Army is at rock bottom. When the commander of the Eighth Army, General Gott, is killed, it seems that foul play is at work. An impenetrable Axis spy circuit could be compromising any hope the Allies have of stemming the Nazi tide.
Jack Tanner, recovering from wounds in a Cairo hospital, is astonished to receive a battlefield commission which will propel him into a very different world when he returns to action. Fit once more, he finds himself facing the full onslaught of Rommel's latest offensive.
In its aftermath, Tanner and his trusty sidekick Sykes are recruited to work behind the Axis lines in a desperate attempt to take the fight to the Nazis. But the murky world of subterfuge, deceit and murder they find themselves in is a million miles away from the certainties of the battlefield and somehow they must discover who they can trust in the cat-and-mouse world of counter-espionage.
Whilst I'm not always a big fan of modern warfare tales, I make an exception for James Holland as for me he's the English Sven Hassel, able to present a believable tale set during the hardships of war. Its dark, its brutal and of course with a lead hero who seeks to do what he has to for Queen and Country leads the reader into a whole set of affairs that bring the modern day Sharpe to the reader's attention.
The prose is sharp with the author presenting a solid woven arc to the reader with no nonsense prose that keep you glued from start to finish. Add to this some great historical accuracy backing up the overall arc and the reader really is in for a treat as history and fiction merge with wonderful clarity. Great stuff all in.
on 23 November 2012
Never was this phrase more appropriate than with this novel. The front cover and spine have artwork that is reminiscent of a 1970's Commando comic. However, what is inside is in no way done justice by the artwork. Instead, James Holland's latest novel, is a cross between Robert Goddard and Colin Forbes. If you like action with a carefully thought through plot, with some twists, then this is for you. I have never read any of Mr Holland's books prior to this, or knew anything about the main character Jack Tanner, who features in other titles. However, this does wet the readers appetite and encourages exploration of others works.
On turning the first page, you are presented with maps, and a page of abbreviations- this is a serious book, and the author clearly knows his topic, and scripts a "ripping yarn". You know that you are not in for throwaway beach read, but a serious story that develops well. The plot revolves on two levels, and close attention needs to be paid to geographic features- where the maps become invaluable, otherwise you will become lost easily.
All characters are well fleshed out, and believable, and its is easy to immerse oneself in 1940's Cairo, and the surrounding area.
One criticism, and this applies to many books is that the profile of the story appears crafted to cover a certain amount of pages, in this case 450. The end comes rapidly and whilst all loose ends are nicely tidied up, it all finishes rather quickly. I suspect another 50 pages could have easily been found, to tie matters up in a more orderly manner.
Ultimately, the test of any book is, " would I buy another from this author?' and the resounding answer is yes. Whilst as mentioned above, I would rejig the artwork, as books are often selected in libraries on the spine image. Based on that, this would have failed the "finger test" of pulling a book out based on the title or image. However, this is entirely personal, and for everyone that dislikes the cover, there will be those that love it. Ultimately, it doesn't do the book justice, and Mr Holland's tome deserves better, to ensure as wider possible readership as possible.
on 13 August 2012
James Holland's pedigree as Military Historian, and newspaper/magazine contributor, and author of five historical works is obvious in this well-crafted, historically-accurate World War Two adventure.
Holland realized there was no Sharpe, or Hornblower, for the Second World War so created Jack Tanner. Tanner doesn't feature as heavily in his own tale as much as Sharpe or Hornblower feature in theirs, but the strength of the supporting cast, characters like Alex Vaughan, and Stan Sykes, allow the tale to develop flawlessly.
I like Tanner, as a hero; he is, perhaps, a little more vulnerable than others, gets wounded, and makes mistakes along the way. But, his decision-making under fire is exemplary; and he hands out a particularly painful lesson in manners to one of the Officer class, who looked down on the "oiks" - even an "oik" whose bravery earned him a battlefield promotion.
We may be aware that the privileged class made poor and tragic decisions, throughout the history of warfare - never more so than in some aspects of the First World War; we may be less aware that those disastrous decisions continued to be made in this campaign, too?
Jack Tanner's story unfolds in the North Africa of Rommel and Montgomery, and mainly in Cairo, which almost develops a character of its own, being hot and sweaty, and a little grubby, but, at the same time, beautiful and vibrant. The espionage part of the story, to me, doesn't quite convey the importance or urgency of what's being done, and why the Allies need to stop it. But the soldiering and battle descriptions certainly convey their story, from the seemingly endless and banal waiting around for right conditions to appear; to the noise and suddenness of battle, and the confusion caused by the lack of visibility.
Comradeship, acts of daring and bravery, and, sometimes, acts of near-lunacy, all have to feature in stories of this kind; as does compassion, and the normality of relationships by which we can assess the strength of the characters. All these are written with credibility, and I can pay no greater compliment to the author, than to say I will read another of his books.
on 18 July 2012
Jack Tanner will inevitably be compared to that paragon of historical fiction Sharpe. But in a period where there is so much of a challenge from other authors presenting equally good material, Holland stands out. In this adventure, raised from the ranks, our hero is involved in breaking an Axis spy ring thought responsible for the death of General Gott, the new commander in Chief of British forces in the East, being part of a Special Operations unit similar to the SAS destroying German resources behind enemy lines, finding his feet among the officer corps and being decorated for his role in the push under Eighth Army Commander Montgomery at Alamein. Tanner definitely has his work cut out for him. There's intrigue and double crossing, Tanner get his first experience of the back alleys of military intelligence, earning him a vital lesson; don't trust anybody. The action flows perfectly, dragging you along at a break neck pace, although I personally found at parts trying to keep my eye on various story lines stopping and starting at times, unlike Holland's previous books to be slightly off putting. Attention to military and historical accuracy and detail stands this book out from the pantheon of new fiction coming out recently and has the air of authenticity throughout. A couple of features that I felt did let the story down was the text and banter between some of the characters feeling slightly wooden and stunted-almost like something out of the old Commando comics and characterisation being a bit wooden. It seems every eventuality Tanner has an answer to it, there are no times when he is nonplussed and when one of his comrades die, there is little show of emotion other than "Poor Mudge, he bought it". Maybe this typifies the blasé attitude soldiers are forced to take in such circumstances, it's not for me to decide. At the same time, the settings are not immersive, occasionally it might be mentioned that Cairo stunk, or there was a heap of rotting bodies. Whereas with the likes of Cornwell we have descriptions of the egg stink of powder, or the heavy meaty charnel house, we don't get that with Holland and therefore not fully immersed. These are not really major faults and for what is the starting books in a series, written by someone who previously written only history books, compared to other transitional writers, Holland excels. A perfect bit of escapism, couldn't put it down, will definitely be reading the follow up. Would even go so far as to get out the old Airfix soldiers and join a World War 2 reenactment group. Highly recommended
on 17 September 2011
I've read all of the Jack Tanner books, fortunately in sequence which is a great advantage.
It's interesting to watch the development of James Holland as a novelist. His greatest strength is that despite being works of fiction his books are based on real events with many of the actual people involved incorporated. He is careful to keep the story in line with what really happened (often right down to dates and times)and so the reader gets a history lesson as well as being entertained - no mean feat. The research for each book must be really extensive.
As each book goes by the construction improves and HellFire is a great improvement in technique and character development over the first three. The incorporation of the espionage element provides for some much needed suspense rather than just alternating between action and romance and here I was reminded of the (highly recommended) Alan Furst spy books which are set in the same era
I hope James Holland continues to broaden his horizons, rounding his characters and incorporating more interweaving story lines. Oh, and not depend on Tanner shooting explosives thrown by Sykes to get his hero out of trouble - it's getting a bit repetitious!
I'm looking forward to the next book, which I assume will be set in Italy?
on 8 April 2012
As a Military historian I couldn't wait to read this book. Very well written with the author having immense knowledge of WW2. Jack Tanner books are both exciting and interesting. Real 'Page Turners'. I would definitely recommend.
on 19 August 2012
Another outing for Holland's engaging "Captain Hurricane" for the 21st century: Jack Tanner. Promoted to lieutenant while recovering from injury, Tanner is briefly pitched into dirty espionage dealings in El Alamein era Cairo; before ending up back at the front behind enemy lines as Monty's big push gains momentum. Another cracking read with Tanner as usual supported by his trusty Cockney sidekick, Sykes.