Book Review - Roseanna's Reply by F. D. Johnson
I was contacted by Frank Johnson and asked if I'd like to review his World War 2 historical novel, Roseanna's Reply. Since it's a genre I normally enjoy, I decided that it might be a good recreational read. As I believe this is his first novel (at least I didn't find any others on Amazon, but I could be wrong), I wasn't expecting great things. Add in the 566 pages of the book, and I wondered if I had perhaps made a mistake in accepting the book. But much to my surprise and amazement, Johnson pulled off an excellent writing job. And even though books of this length usually have me wishing the writing was a bit tighter, at no time was I tempted to start skimming material to get to the end.
The book takes place in 1942, when the air war between Germany and England is still very much up for grabs. The English and American commands are looking for a better fighter that can both perform in a dogfight *and* travel as escort to long-range bombers into Germany. Without the escort capabilities, the bombers are taking much more damage than they are able to inflict. North American Aviation, run by Dutch Kendall, is trying to create a new fighter by taking the body of the Mustang and fitting it with the Merlin engine for better performance. Their enemies aren't only the German spies, but other companies in the US who want their own piece of the fighter market.
Dutch's daughter, Roseanna Kendall, is a stellar, headstrong pilot who is ferrying aircraft around North America for the war effort. But what she *really* longs to do is to fly combat missions. Her life almost comes to an end when she's forced to ditch an aircraft in the snowy wilderness of Canada during a trip. But she's rescued by a equally competent and mysterious bush pilot named Waldo. Never having had much use for friends, Roseanna finds herself drawn to Waldo, in part because of his flying skills, and also because he seems to be hiding a background that hints of war time heroism and combat missions. She's able to convince her father to hire him at North American Aviation in California as a test pilot, and he also takes on the task of turning Roseanna from a stubborn flier into a top-notch combat pilot. Dutch feels this will benefit her as he grooms Roseanna to take over the company some day. But she is still harboring hope that somehow she can one day go head-to-head with enemy planes during real aerial engagements.
One day when Waldo and Dutch's son Jeremy are on their way to work, their car is deliberately run off the road in an attempt to kill Jeremy and slow down progress on the new fighters. Dutch is able to get a military investigator to look into the incident, and it quickly becomes apparent that there truly is an espionage element to the accident. But since they can't find an internal leak, it's hard to tell if this was a one-time incident or whether the rest of the Kendall family (including Roseanna) remains at risk. Roseanna is falling for Spencer, the investigator, and the two try and figure out what would be proper vs. what would make them both happy.
Without going into much more plot detail (to avoid giving out too much of the story-line), the story works its way through to the conclusion of the war and retribution for Jeremy's injury. Only in the last few pages do you find out exactly how the title fits into the story-line, but suffice it to say that it works out very well.
Aviation buffs will really get into this book. There is a ton of technical detail about planes and aviation, and I would assume that someone into World War 2 fighters would be unable to put the book down. What most impressed me about this book was the dialogue. Realistic interaction between characters is not an easy chore, and I find that first-time novelists usually don't do well with it. Roseanna's Reply is a major exception to the rule. The character development is solid, and *all* the characters carry their weight and contribute to the story. Yes, you could have done this book in 300 pages or so, but I certainly didn't see a need to trim it down. The plot and action flowed, the pacing was right, and I looked forward each night to picking it back up to see where things would go.
When this book makes it to Amazon or the local bookstore, it would be one that I'd definitely recommend. It's not something you'll finish in a day or two, but the time you spend with Roseanna and cast will be well-spent and enjoyable.