June 12, 2016

Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 50

Churchill as a  Literary Character: WSC in Fiction

Review by Michael McMenamin

Mark Woodburn, The Finest Years & Me, Valley Press, 2015,  320 pages, $13.00. ISBN 978-1908853561

WSC in Fiction

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Portrayal of Churchill ***

Worth Reading **

The Finest Years & Me is a sequel of sorts to Mark Woodburn’s excellent first novel Winston & Me [reviewed FH 160] that featured a young fifteen-year-old Scottish hero Jamie Melville, who lies about his age to enlist in the Army and ends up in Churchill’s battalion in 1915. Jamie and his age eventually come to Churchill’s attention in an unfortunate way when Churchill’s batman is wounded and Jamie is chosen to take his place. Churchill takes the young man under his wing, and Jamie repays the kindness by saving Churchill’s life when he gets entangled on barbed wire in No-Man’s Land. When Churchill returns to politics in 1916, he takes Jamie with him as an assistant, a position he holds until 1919, when he left to join his brothers in the family business.

Flash forward to February 1942, where The Finest Years & Me begins. We learn through flashbacks that Jamie has remained a close friend of Churchill and Clementine over the years and that he is a widower with three daughters. America is in the war, but things are not going well for Churchill. Hong Kong and Singapore have fallen and, at home, Beaverbrook and Cripps see themselves as Churchill’s replacement. Winston’s spirits are at low ebb, and Clementine decides that her husband needs at his side a loyal friend —someone not named Bracken—whom she can trust. She tells her son Randolph: “He needs someone that cares for him but isn’t frightened of him. Who can tell him when he has to stop! Someone who can remain behind the scenery but has the personality and will to impose himself when it matters…someone who wants nothing or needs nothing from him, but who has affection for him and understanding. Most of all, understanding!” Clementine smiles, and when her son asks, “Why the big grin?” she says, “I know who that someone is.”

Enter Jamie Melville who is persuaded to work once more for the man he still refers to as “Colonel.” Most of the book takes place during 1942, and Jamie is at Churchill’s side throughout from London to Washington, D.C., and back again. Woodburn’s portrayal of Churchill is once more first-rate, as is his portrayal of other historical characters like Clementine Churchill, Brendan Bracken, Lord Beaverbrook, Harry Hopkins, Alan Brooke, FDR, George Marshall, Admiral King, Eisenhower, and a host of other lesser characters. Like its predecessor, it is more a historical novel than a historical thriller, but, as the blurb on the cover says, “Jamie is at the centre of high-end decision making, intrigue, treachery and betrayal,” including a blonde femme fatale.

If you enjoyed Winston & Me, you will find The Finest Years & Me equally satisfying.

Novels are rated one to three stars on two questions: Is the portrayal of Churchill accurate and is the book worth reading?

Michael McMenamin writes the Finest Hour feature “Action This Day” and is a member of its editorial board. He and his son Patrick are co-authors of the award-winning Winston Churchill Thriller series The DeValera Deception, The Parsifal Pursuit, and The Gemini Agenda, set during Churchill’s Wilderness Years, 1929–1939.

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