This description of 24 hours in 1943 and the experiences of those involved – German and British – in one RAF bombing raid of a small German town is so detailed, so meticulously researched, and so well-written, that you’re pulled right into all the lives and events described. Whether it’s the RAF crews collecting their sandwiches and thermos flasks of tea, and boiled sweets – and then nervously, nervously, waiting – for take-off, or the panic in a burning hospital with the patients still trapped inside, or what happens when a fighter plane is struck by a flock of birds in flight, you not only see it, you can practically reach out and touch it.
And that detail never lets up. The pain and the fear and the suffering, the panic and frustration and exhaustion are so vividly rendered that you long for it all to stop… and yet you can’t stop reading. Which I think is probably the point. You, the reader, can’t escape what’s happening any more than the characters on the page can. By the time you reach the final page you’ve come to know everyone involved – in all their human pettiness, greed, bravery and desperation – so well, in fact, that their death or survival lingers in your mind long after the book goes back on the shelf. It packs as much of punch now – after my fourth reading – as it did when I first finished it in 1972. There are very few books I can say that about.