The Long Flight Home by A L Hlad

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The Long Flight Home by A L Hlad

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Illuminating a lesser known part of our WWII history, The Long Flight Home tells a familiar tale but with a unique setting, historical detail, and a passion that ensures a tale that is far more than it may seem at first glance.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: June 2019
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1529311440

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September 1940 - as WWII rages on, bombs rain down on Britain, destroying the homes and lives of a people on the edge. In Epping Forest, Susan Shepherd and her grandfather Bertie live together raising homing pigeons with the birds proving a comfort for Susan following the loss of her parents. These pigeons are more than just birds to Susan though – in each one, and especially in Duchess, she sees a distinct personality and forms a close bond. Meanwhile, young pilot Ollie Evans leaves Maine to head to Britain and join the Royal Air Force. Working with the National Pigeon Service, he soon meets Susan and is tasked with air-dropping hundreds of homing pigeons into German-occupied France, where many will not survive. As the mission is planned, the bond between Ollie and Susan grows stronger, but when Ollie's plane is downed behind enemy lines, it may be Duchess who provides an unexpected lifeline and ensures that hope of a reunion for Susan and Ollie remains…

It's only 80 years since the Second World War was in full flow, and yet the public do seem to have forgotten what an important role pigeons played in both World Wars. These intelligent, well trained pigeons carried crucial messages for many years -and it's thought that, in certain areas of the world, they're still used for this purpose – with claims in 2016 that Islamic State were utilising carrier pigeons to share messages. However, go to anywhere in the UK and you'll likely find that pigeons are classed as vermin - dirty birds who'll peck at anything they can find.

Author A L Hlad brings this aspect of wartime intrigue to life with careful passion - he's clearly very keen to explore this aspect of history, and it certainly seems that he's done his research, with historical details enabling an uncanny sense of setting - yet never proving too clunky when it comes to moving the plot along. There are a lot of WWII novels out there – but Hlad's subject matter is so interesting that this really stood out for me in what is a rather saturated market. In fact, part of me wishes we could have had more detail – particularly on the fascinating National Pigeon Service. The love story between Ollie and Susan feels rather inevitable, but they are well written as characters – whilst they're not necessarily memorable, their meeting is a wonderfully dramatic segment of the book, and the situations they're placed in allow for the emotions between them to feel both real and extremely powerful. As the stakes become ever higher, Hlad isn't afraid of adding a few plot twists in here and there – and there's a time jump towards the end of the book which jarred with me slightly – but I think only because I'd become truly invested in events occurring in the 1940s.

Overall, this is a strong, enjoyable read that educates just as it entertains. Hlad explores a forgotten part of our history with a passion that can be clearly felt as one turns the pages. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy, and for further reading I recommend Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave - another read that takes the familiar setting of Britain in WWII, but illuminates it with fascinating detail and clever plot turns. We also enjoyed Shelter by Sarah Franklin. For another little-known part of the war, we can recommend The Last Battle by Stephen Harding.

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