THE ECHO OF THE SEA AND OTHER STRANGE WAR STORIES by Paul StJohn Mackintosh, Egaeus Press, UK HC £20.00 (UK) 189 pages, ISBN: 978-0-993527869, www.egaeuspress.com
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
One thing that is guaranteed to prejudice me against something is a sweeping generalisation. Unfortunately, the author’s does that, in the first line. Considering he was born sixteen years after the end of WWII (and is younger than me), to state that most post-war Brits were brought up on war stories is disingenuous. I wasn’t, neither was anyone I knew.
That aside, this volume like all of Egaeus Press books is a beautiful production, and pocket sized. Inside are four short stories set during or soon after WWII. Although they are advertised as strange stories, only the first and last have elements of this but all have the same kind of atmosphere that Dennis Wheatley put into his books. The title story is singularly different from the other three and involves Flight Lieutenant Lurie who is effectively an air accident investigator sent to RAF Kinross. Two Wellington bombers equipped with an experimental radar systems have mysteriously disappeared. The idea is interesting, suggesting that something supernatural has occurred but since most of the investigation is done through diaries, it lacks the essence that would turn it from an account to something really spooky.
The other three stories all have a character on common, and a theme. It is well known that Hitler was interested in the occult, something that Wheatley makes use of in some of his novels. ‘Claymore and Maelstrom’ introduces Dahlberg, a Norwegian who is suspicious of the German musician who has made his home in the fishing village especially when he receives a visitor who doesn’t seem to have arrived by usual means. Although Norway is occupied by German forces, most of the villages are left alone. The British, however are planning a raid on this one. In ‘The Mistletoe Bough’, Dahlberg is selected to accompany Arthur Graham, a specialist in folklore, who anticipates the Germans using a ritual in a particular place, the result of which will help Hitler win the war. The intention of the expedition is to prevent the ritual. Dahlberg is chosen as the site they are heading for is within his home territory. Dahlberg turns up again in ‘Maquettes’. This time it is after the war. He is in charge of a salvage operation to find what was on board a German E-boat sunk during the war. The maquettes of the title are detailed dioramas of events, one of which depicts the sinking of the boat in question.
All of these stories are rich in detail but the research shows, with too much being included. The stories would all benefit from being told at a greater length allowing the settings and characterisation of landscapes and personnel to develop. In many places the pace is reported rather than letting it take off to increase tension and add excitement the action. A good effort, but not there yet.