Friday, April 25, 2014

Forgotten Books: DANGER ZONE by Raoul Whitfield (1931)


After reading Raoul Whitfield's Danger Circus (discussed HERE) I expected Danger Zone to be the same sort of book - semi-juvenile with plenty of action and mystery, but not much plot.

Well. I was right about plot (in fact, this book has so little it's barely worth the name), but wrong on the other counts. While the writing is less sophisticated than that of Whitfield's five mystery novels, there's nothing here - aside from the book's design and illustrations - to indicate it was aimed at a juvenile audience.

In fact, Danger Zone doesn't read like a novel at all, but like the memoir of a young pilot heading off to war. Though I don't know enough about Whitfield's life to say for sure, I suspect this to be a semi-autobiographical account of his own journey to France during WWI. I'll be curious to see what Whitfield authority Boris Dralyuk has to say on the matter.

The story begins with a brief scene in Texas, where our narrator, Cadet Ben Shirley, is making a qualifying flight to get his lieutenant's commission and earn his silver wings. Then it's on to New York, where Ben (now a lieutenant) and two fellow pilots are on board a ship preparing to cross the Atlantic. After many realistic slices of life on board, consuming at least fifty pages of the book, the ship finally leaves harbor and joins a convoy bound for France. There follow many more slices of life involving their duties on board and what they perceive as minor persecutions by small-minded majors. There''s also a lot of talk about  what might happen when they enter the "danger zone," where they're likely to encounter enemy submarines.

Well, they do finally encounter a sub, and one of an untold number of ships in the convoy is sunk, but the scene is quickly over. Ben and his pals are never in any danger, and are mere observers to the action. Nothing else happens (except more life slices) until the final chapter, when Ben takes the air for the first time in France, and then the book ends.

Adding to the memoir feel are numerous footnotes defining military slang and telling us what happens to certain characters during the war or later in their careers.

All in all, this is an interesting book and a good read, it just isn't much of a novel, and the title is false advertising.

I've now read all four of Whitfield's juvenile books and am surprised to report they have almost nothing in common. Silver Wings (HERE) is a collection of sometimes-related moralistic short stories. Danger Circus (HERE) is a mere novelette about melodramatic doings at a circus. Wings of Gold (review coming soon) is a full-length, but simple-minded novel of mystery-adventure set in the New West, and Danger Zone is only marginally fiction. I knew Raoul Whitfield was a versatile writer, but I didn't expect this much versatility in his kids' books.

4 comments:

Richard said...

Interesting. I sort of like the period illustrations, but it doesn't sound like a book I'll read.

Richard said...

By the way, what did you think of Ron Sheer's review of Red Harvest for FFB today?

Oscar said...

The sketches are striking with their added color in spots.

Evan Lewis said...

Ron did a great job on Harvest. Right on, as we hippies used to say.