Grieving over the death of his lover, British flying ace Bat Bryant accidentally kills the man threatening him with exposure. Unfortunately there’s a witness: the big, rough American they call “Cowboy” – and Cowboy has his own price for silence.
“Out of the Blue” will be a standalone e-book published by Liquid Silver Books, and will also appear in Esprit de Corps, a military anthology due out in 2009 will feature stories by Victor J. Banis, Samantha Kane, George Seaton and Josh Lanyon.
review by Mark R. Probst
I’m a sucker for wartime stories so I was most eager to delve into the novella Out of the Blue by Josh Lanyon. Romance set during the First World War seems to be in very high demand right now, and I for one can’t get enough of it. WWI was the first major war to be fought in the skies as well as on the ground and this story is about the British flying aces known as the Royal Flying Corps who supported the troops in the trenches by engaging in aerial dogfights with the Germans. The world Lanyon carefully re-creates is the one I knew from such films as Wings, Hell’s Angels, and most notably the 1938 Errol Flynn vehicle The Dawn Patrol. Very much like the Flynn movie, this story shows the helplessness and desperation that the RFC pilots feel as an endless supply of younger, inexperienced new recruits take the place of the fallen. Only if they manage to survive long enough to gain some experience, do they actually have a chance to prolong their survival. The war-machine with its insatiable appetite devours the expendable resource known as the fighter pilot. The hero of the story, Bat, has learned to distance himself from the new recruits in order to shield himself from the pain when they are inevitably killed.
The story opens on the day after Bat’s best buddy, with whom he had a romantic though platonic relationship, is killed. The mechanic of their squadron has somehow gotten wind of the nature of Bat’s relationship to deceased pilot, and proceeds to blackmail him. Bat responds with a fist to the man’s jaw, which accidentally kills the would-be blackmailer. An American pilot referred to as “Cowboy”, skulking in the shadows, is witness to this scene and conspires to cover up the killing, convincing Bat that notifying the MPs would only go badly for him. There are several reasons why the mechanic’s killing and its cover-up are excusable. For one, he was a blackmailer; two, he was a lousy mechanic and his ineptitude was costing lives; and lastly, it really was just an unfortunate accident.
Cowboy however has designs of his own and, from Bat’s perspective, coerces him into a sexual relationship. Now I’ll say right here that a lot of Romance fans who want their Romance to follow strict guidelines may be put off by this, because for a large part of the story, Cowboy does have an apparent streak of villainy in him. I however don’t believe in strict adherence to guidelines and welcome character flaws or even some bad behavior as I think it makes a character more human and much more interesting than say, a knight in shining armor. I would say the fact that I really felt some hate and disgust for the way Cowboy treated Bat through most of the story, demonstrates that Lanyon has expertly succeeded in getting a gut reaction from this reader.
The story proceeds with several exciting reconnaissance missions and then when the mechanic’s body is discovered, an investigation that leads the local French police chief to suspect one of the pilots.
I found the story to be compelling and well-told and I was able to closely identify with Bat’s confusion and inner turmoil. I also enjoyed little details like the fact that Bat, a fan of the Western stories of Zane Grey and Max Brand, is the one who gave the American pilot his nickname, and there is also an interesting bit about the introduction of an American candy.
Naturally there is an erotic component to the story. Personally this is an element I find unnecessary, but I know it is what many readers desire so all I can really say is that I’m grateful it was limited to just a few scenes.
My only real complaint is that there were a few instances where some of the details of what was happening were not completely clear. For instance during an engagement with the enemy when Bat noticed that one of the planes was missing from the formation, he uttered an expletive and I assumed that meant the pilot had been shot down, so I was naturally confused when the pilot was alive and well in the very next scene. Only later in the story was I able to piece together that the Bat’s expletive was annoyance because the other pilot had recently lost his nerve and had begun to hang back from the fighting and not supply cover to the other pilots.
Now my knowledge of WWI and the Royal Flying Corps comes mainly from the movies, rather than from any diligent research, so I didn’t notice any blaring inaccuracies in the details of Lanyon’s story. WWI aficionados might possibly have a different opinion. I heartily recommend Out of the Blue.
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