Author: Carl Rackman
Published Independently November 2017
Category: Historical Fiction, Suspense, Thriller, Book Review
The North Atlantic, 1940. A British destroyer pounces on a seemingly abandoned U-boat, leading to a spine-chilling encounter.
Five years later, the US Navy destroyer Brownlee grimly prepares to battle a swarm of Japanese kamikazes at Okinawa.
Mitch “Lucky” Kirkham, a young gunner on the Brownlee, wakes up miraculously unscathed after his crewmates are killed in a fearsome kamikaze strike.
Carl Rackman is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors. His debut novel Irex, was published in 2016, closely followed by Voyager, and now we have Jonah, a suspenseful and compelling thriller.
In a foreboding prologue the crew of the Royal Navy Destroyer, HMS Venator, spot a Nazi U-Boat showing no signs of life, just sitting on the surface of the ocean. Seizing the chance to get rid of the enemy vessel they were not at all prepared for the hair-raising behaviour of the few survivors.
Fast forward to another ship five years later, the USS Brownlee, patrolling a stretch of the Pacific alongside the USS Mattersley, providing an early warning system against air attacks by Japanese kamikaze pilots. Twenty-one year old Mitch Kirkham was one of two gun loaders and when they are again under attack, this time by many more planes than previously, the terrified young sailors could only hope the defending Navy pilots would be able to reduce the force of the attack before the Japanese aircraft reached the ship.
Mitch felt his mouth drying, the skin prickling all over his face, and he felt itches begin under his life vest where he couldn’t reach them. He wanted to look for Nicky, but was so scared he didn’t know what he would di if his frightened eyes locked on to anyone else’s.
He could hear mumbled prayers all around him, from all points of the deck. Every man at the gun was tapping or fidgeting nervously.
Fifty planes. Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
For the second time ‘Lucky’ Mitch Kirkham survives an attack which kills many of his crewmates. The remaining ship’s crew become suspicious of his lack of injuries, among other things, branding him a coward and earning him the nickname Jonah. He’s subjected to victimization and bullying, finding his only real friend in Father MacGready, the ship’s chaplain. Mitch is not looking forward to the long journey back to San Francisco. But that’s only the beginning for Mitch, the troubled ship and it’s crew, as the situation aboard goes from bad to worse when the sailors become afflicted by a strange madness which causes hallucinations, murder and suicide. Mitch finds out to his cost that not everyone is who they seem.
Set towards the end of the Second World War and told in the third person, mostly but not exclusively from Mitch’s perspective, the story is tense and described vividly, particularly the problems caused by the proximity of the living and working conditions, as well as the fear and anxiety of the men. Extremely well written and researched, the plot is plausible, perfectly paced and I had no idea how it would unfold, I certainly didn’t expect that ending, despite the narrative’s ominous build up. I love the flashbacks, which tie in with certain characters, showing how events from the past have never really left them. Characterisations are distinct and well defined and the dialogue authentic. The effects of war, stress, survivor’s guilt and how subordinates are at the mercy of their superiors, are all frighteningly realistic. It’s only January but I can see this featuring in my list of best reads for this year.
I chose to read and review Jonah for Rosie Amber’s book review team.
Hi! I’m Carl Rackman, a British former airline pilot turned author. I come from a naval military background and have held a lifelong interest in military history and seafaring. I spent my working life travelling the world and this has given me a keen interest in other people and cultures. I’ve drawn on my many experiences for my writing. I write suspense thrillers with a flair for evocative descriptions of locales and characters. I enjoy complex, absorbing storylines combined with rich, believable characters, so that’s the sort of fiction I write. I try to create immersive worlds for the reader to explore, and characters who are more than just vehicles for the story.
I hope you’ll enjoy my books and leave reviews. I try to personally thank reviewers if they’ve particularly enjoyed my books.