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Damned Good Show by Derek Robinson
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Robinson describes what it was like to fly in Bomber Command in the early years of WW II.The squadron he uses in this novel is the fictional 409 which starts the war flying Hampdens and eventually converts to Wellingtons. The descriptions of flying these planes in training and on bombing raids over Germany are accurate and he attempts to give the reader a picture of the terror and discomfort of flying at night in temperatures of 30 degrees below zero while people are shooting at you from the ground and the air.

In the early years of the war, navigation was a rudimentary skill and planes traveled on their own to the target frequently getting lost on the way there and back. That is vividly described in the novel. As well, Bomber Command was sending young men on a dangerous mission to bomb Germany's war industries which they failed to hit most of the time but denying that there was a problem with their bombing accuracy. The character of Skull is treated badly by the RAF because he recognizes this and won't keep quiet about it.

There is much black humour in Robinson's writing which I found tiresome after awhile. In the story he includes an episode of a woman flying a mission in order to add sound to a film they were taking of the flight. I thought this might be the author adding it for the benefit of the novel but he claims in the epilogue that there were recorded episodes of Waaf's sneaking on to a boyfriend's plane on training flights and one actually flew on a mission.

A very readable and intriguing novel. ( )
  lamour | Sep 19, 2017 |
The awful truth came to him: bomber ops were not necessarily exciting. They were endlessly threatening and frightening and difficult, but the drama was all in the danger and the danger was hidden by the night." (pg. 309)

Damned Good Show is a disappointing follow-up to what has been an entertaining, if significantly flawed, trilogy of World War Two RAF stories from author Derek Robinson. Unfortunately, alone of the three, Damned Good Show has more in its debit column than its credit. If it wasn't so well-written, this would be a two-star book. It is similar in tone and style to its predecessors, Piece of Cake and A Good Clean Fight, and consequently rather readable, but when you consider that its flaws are more pronounced (as I shall come onto presently) this is not enough on its own to redeem it.

The book follows an RAF bomber squadron from the outbreak of war in September 1939 through to some point in 1941, and notes the change in bombing strategy during this time. Unfortunately, this is undercooked. Whereas Piece of Cake addressed Battle of Britain myths ably (if zealously) and A Good Clean Fight gave an impressive account of ground-strafing and desert warfare, in Damned Good Show Robinson gets too side-tracked by characters that don't do anything and sub-plots that don't go anywhere. Much of the first part of the novel covers the 'Phoney War' period before the fall of France, and consequently there is little action. Many of the aerial scenes we go get deal with pilots getting lost over featureless terrain and seas; not the most exciting stuff to read about. The focus here seems to be a rather nonsensical romance plot between a dislikeable pilot (though all Robinson's pilots in all his books seem to be nasty pieces of work) and some super-hot, super-rich nympho girl who reads like a male fantasy. There are also some cringeworthy sex-talk and sex scenes, including one where said nympho flicks the guy's penis.

It does pick up a bit during the second part, which covers a film crew arriving at the squadron's air base to shoot a documentary (Robinson bases this on a real propaganda film of the time, Target for Tonight). This allows Robinson an excuse to explain the realities of the life of a bomber crew without becoming too didactic, and we do get a fair appreciation of what it must have been like for a night-bombing crew to experience freezing cold for hours on end over hostile territory. One prolonged scene towards the end in which we follow Lieutenant Silk on a bombing run over Hanover is particularly great; the book as a whole could do with more such scenes.

However, the balance between this day-to-day reality for the pilots is not matched by the attention given to charting the change in bombing strategy. We get a few scenes involving the higher-ups conducting a review of the bombers' accuracy and some didactic dialogue scenes involving the author avatar 'Skull' Skelton, but we get little sense of the actual movement, the actual process the RAF and the War Office went through to get from the well-meaning, 'no civilians' Roosevelt Rules campaigns of 1939 to the development of mass area bombing beginning in 1941. This is clearly the overarching aim of the novel, but whilst we're told of these changes, we don't experience them to an appreciable extent. It's unfortunately ironic that a book which is all about the inaccuracy of early-war bombing raids misses its own targets so markedly.

Elsewhere, the other flaws from previous books can also be added to Damned Good Show's debit column. The humour is thankfully toned down from previous books but it still feels like Robinson wants everyone to be, as one character laments on page 345, a "third-rate comedian". The dialogue, though funny, seems one-note and the only scene that had any unique and authentic spice in its dialogue was that on page 143 between Langham and his mother-in-law. Every character is dry and cynical, and often nasty, so there's no-one we as readers really root for. I did like McHarg, however, and his eccentric revenge on Langham and Silk was the only truly good thing about the first part of the book.

Even the strengths from previous books are, whilst still present in Damned Good Show, rather depleted. The pacing is off, and the book as a whole feels like those first few-hundred difficult pages of Piece of Cake. One creditable quality of previous books was the appreciation we got for the character and flying qualities of the various aircraft but there is little of that in this book beyond a repeated assertion that the Wellington is a 'tough old bird' and that the early bombers like the Hampdens were not as hapless as often made out. Even previous commendable techniques such as Robinson's willingness to suddenly kill off major characters falters here: when one is killed towards the end of the first part it makes us realise in exasperation that much of the first part's plots could have been cut.

When I started reading Damned Good Show and realised it wasn't going to live up to its predecessors, I was deflated. It became a bit of a slog at times but it did improve as it progressed (like Piece of Cake did). During that great scene mentioned earlier on the Hanover bombing run, one character says to himself, "This was the pay-off. This made the whole trip worthwhile." (pg. 313). This is fitting as a representation of my own attitude towards the book, but what Damned Good Show does well its predecessors have done better. And it does more which is worse. In the end, this was a damned poor show." ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
This is an unsentimental expose novel along the lines of Catch 22 that deals with the early years of the British bombing campaign against Germany. This title was the third novel published in the author's RAF series, but it was the second in historical order. I found this one to much more subdued than the second book in this series, Good Clean Fight, and so liked the former mentioned title better than the later. The people were more understandable, but still it was very apparent that the author held a very critical view of the RAF conduct of the air war in Europe, especially from 1939 - 42. The notes at the end of the book were very helpful in understanding the difficulties of training bomber crews and teaching them to accurately bomb cities in order to be effective. The question of accuracy is one that is still controversial among historians and military history buffs. It is clear from what the author says that the RAF clearly relied on crews with inferior training as well as planes that were just plan crap. (This is also backed up in the historical record.) The prevailing view today is to romanticize the crews and the planes from WWII, but the author makes it clear that the equipment was not the best, and that there was little effort made on the part of bomber command to halt operations until better machinery could be procured. The result was a horrible loss of life and talent early in the war. It is also clear that RAF Bomber Command relied on the pluck and dash of its human capital to carry the day. Neither the crews, the planes, or the rest of humanity gained anything by using this kind of thinking. While the idea of this book is good, and it makes an enlightening read, the execution is only average. ( )
  benitastrnad | Sep 25, 2012 |
Damned Good Show follows 409 Squadron, Bomber Command, through the early years of World War Two.

Part One is set mostly during the period of the phoney war, with boredom and frustration the dominant emotions. The two biggest personalities of the squadron are Silk and Langham, good fliers but also the sort of pranksters who on a weekend off will "borrow" another airman's fancy car and gatecrash a wedding at the Ritz. Towards the end of Part One the real fighting starts, though, and their exuberance cannot protect them from the psychological impact of their comrades' deaths and their own near misses.

Part Two takes place at the tail end of the Blitz. Here, the main theme is truth as a casualty of war. The men tend not to refer to the terrible things they have seen (an understandable piece of self-preservation); senior officials are deliberately over-optimistic about success rates; crews always return from a raid swearing that they hit the target; and the debriefers accept their word despite all sorts of inconsistencies. In Part Two, the deadpan black humour of Part One gradually leaches away, eventually surviving only in what Silk says - he's one of two characters that speak the truth, the other being a university lecturer-turned-intelligence officer named 'Skull' Skelton who is kicked out of squadron after squadron for his honesty.

'You make life bloody difficult for me,' Duff said. 'It's hellish hard work trying to boost morale when you come back and tell everyone the squadron just bombed Zurich.'
'I would never say that. I might say we missed Zurich.'
'Morale is crucial. And you keep chipping away at it.'
'Listen...' Silk eased his backside. 'Night after night, op after op, crews tell Bins and Skull, yes, they found the target and yes, they hit the target. You know that's not always true.'
'And the crews know it. They know who the bullshit-merchants are. How many Wimpys completely miss the target? Ten per cent? Twenty? Thirty?'
'No, no,' Duff said. 'That's incompatible with good morale. If my crews start to think their efforts are wasted, they'll stop trying. Confidence and efficiency go hand in hand. Determination is half the battle.'
'Jesus,' Silk said. 'You sound like Henry the Fifth on Benzedrine.'
'Never mind what I sound like. These chaps have got to believe in success before they can succeed. Don't you see that?'

The theme which stretches through the whole book is waste. Pilots, inexperienced, terrified or simply under great pressure, make mistakes. They have to fly so high to avoid German anti-aircraft fire that they can barely see where they are, never mind find the target. With poor visibility they depend on 'dead reckoning', easily thrown out by winds which are a different speed or direction than predicted. So only a small proportion of bombs find their target. And yet, deaths and injuries are commonplace - and told here without fanfare or emotion.

Diamond turned north, hoping to escape the weather, but the weather went north, too. He tried to climb above it, and the wings iced up. The more he climbed, the worse the ice, until the Wimpy was labouring. He had to go back down into the muck. The port engine packed up and now he couldn't maintain height even if he wanted to. He was searching for a hole in the cloud when he scraped the top of a Yorkshire hill that should have been thirty miles away, and he terrified himself. Ten seconds later he flew into another, bigger hill.

As Skull says, "Death as the price of triumph is one thing. Death as the cost of failure is obscene". ( )
2 vote wandering_star | Oct 17, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0304363111, Paperback)

Derek Robinson, author of the highly praised wartime novel A Piece of Cake and many others, now does for the RAF's Bomber Command what Cake did for Fighter Command: he goes beyond the clichéd stereotypes of the wartime RAF and paints an indelible picture of real people at war. The young pilots of 409 Squadron are flung into battle over Nazi Germany, where their training, tactics, and aircraft are all found wanting. Their lively spirit of gentleman amateur fliers simply flickers and dies in the harsh glare of searchlights over the Ruhr. As they struggle, the reality of war comes vividly and painfully into view: chaos, confusion, and comradeship in equal measure.
Robinson is simply the best aviation fiction writer in the business.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:07 -0400)

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"Mia Montrose, archaeological linguist, has discovered that the Black Madonna is a code used by secret societies throughout time for the lost key to an ancient power source: the Sphere of Amenti. Kali, inter-dimensional Queen of the Anunnaki -now fully merged with the youngest Dragon Queen, Tamar Devere - has less than a year to rehabilitate her Fallen kindred who desire inter-galactic domination. Ashlee Granville-Devere, and the Dragon Queens must pool their talents to open the twelve Stations of the Signet Grid and unlock the Halls of Amenti lest the Fallen succeed in using time-travel technologies to destroy humanity. From the ancient past to the distant future, from Montsg ur to the way-stations of the universe, from the Underworld of the Kali Rift to the Otherworld of the Ranna Time Flow - the inter-time war must be won for the sake of the future."--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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