The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

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The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Donna Wells
Reviewed by Donna Wells
Summary: A slow starter but then it grabs you by the heart and before you know it, you're involved in this romantic Second World War tale set in Liverpool.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099531937

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This love affair tale with the city of Liverpool is mostly told through the eyes of architect Tom Baines. With the Second World War looming, Baines is desperately working on a book to capture the memory of buildings that are at risk, and appears a man more in love with the past and solid, cold structures than mankind.

Once the war breaks, Baines uses his understanding of buildings and becomes a rescue man, digging his way underground to save those buried in the rubble, and continuing to preserve buildings by helping with incendiaries and fires. This is where the novel really picked up pace for me, with lots of action on the home front, showing both the horror but also the camaraderie and humour. Each rescue mission is almost like its own individual little story, and you come away realising that it wasn't just the front line in France or the blitz in London that had it tough.

Every now and then we leap back in time to the 1860s through the diaries of architect Peter Eames – someone Baines is researching. This sets the death and destruction of war against the growth and advancement of the industrial revolution. Now I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest lover of the diary format but in this book it worked really well as a parallel. There are so many familiar echoes - both Baines and Eames are shocked by the fragility of life and both watch helplessly as someone falls to their death. There are also similarities in their tangled love lives, keeping you intrigued and adding to the dark atmosphere of breaking the rules.

Both Baines and Eames go on a journey from self-centred to self-sacrificing. Baines didn't have any parents to love and is quite a recluse but becomes more human through his rescue job and his relationship with photographer and socialist, Bella. He realises that what would survive any amount of bombing was the spirit of the place, the unshakable honour in belonging to this ancient, altered town. Rather than the buildings, it's the people that make a place.

Likewise, Eames is a confident upstart, but when he has to deal with criticism from the press on his creations, and his brother needs help, he changes into a caring, sympathetic figure. He goes on to try and build a magnificent library for the average Liverpudlian a building infused with the spirit of the people, a means of reflecting all that is good and noble in them. This really is a story about two people who learn to put the wider good ahead of their personal gain.

I really enjoyed this debut novel from Anthony Quinn. He hooks you in with his deep, complex characters; he meticulously sets the scene, so much so that I think I could find my way around Liverpool having never visited, and his dual plots carefully intertwine. I'll be sure to look out for his next offering and recommend you read this. Don't be put off by a bit of a slow start because it quickly changes into a real page turner.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then we can recommend Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard, Regeneration by Pat Barker and The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

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