“Ship Shape and Solent Style”

A Book Review by Malcolm Smith for COSTA BLANCA NEWS, September 12-18, 2008

Over By Christmas

“Ship Shape and Solent Style”
“Fact and fiction; Love and War, Bloody devastating battles at sea and profiteering on the home front… What a can of worms to painstakingly be shaken up into an intriguing historical romance by local author William Daysh.
Describing this ‘fact cum fiction’ melange, an enthusiastic American reviewer used the word adventure. Over By Christmas is not an adventure, nor, I hesitate to suggest was it ever planned to be. It is a harrowing historical story based on fact and one which exposes ‘political masters’ for what they were and still are, opportunists who consider their constituents little more than gun-fodder and whose dead bodies are mere stepping stones as they seek fame, fortune or even notoriety.

I would not describe the book a “swashbuckling” sea-faring, blood and guts romance either. The action is all there but presented to clinically be that kind of thrilling. Parliamentarians aside, it focuses on ordinary people who did what they thought was “their duty” with death as a payment. Whereas it pinpoints few individual heroics, it does expose leaders unfit to lead and leaders whose thoughts were often not on the job in hand. From a Prime Minister who is more lovelorn than war torn, to a congress of Sea Lords who would rather bicker than cohesively plan. In ‘Over By Christmas’ are exposed active ‘officers’ showing more disdain for their men than for their enemies and profiteers on the home front growing fat on the proceeds of war. William Daysh — who served for many years in the Royal Navy — has researched and produced a down to earth ‘factional’ novel of exceptional accuracy. Needless to say, it is not without its battles, at sea, within the War Cabinet and on the business front.

It isn’t easy to produce an historical romance coupling political intrigue with a common everyday love story, but ‘Over By Christmas’ does just that. I can cite numerous “notable” authors who have tried this genre and failed completely. E. V. Thompson — a master of romantic fiction for over a period of thirty years — is a notable exception, albeit his tales tend to be more romantic than historical. Bernard Cornwell managed admirably with Sharpe but in trying to widen his sphere lost the plot. Guy Walters Channel Islands ‘Occupation’ wartime saga was one of the few that truly got through to me… and now William Daysh’s epic OVER BY CHRISTMAS has tripped my switch.

Intrepidly, William risked sending me a pre-publication copy realizing that I do not show favours; I review books objectively, if I don’t like what I read, I have no compunction in saying so! Time being short (I did not receive the ‘Over By Christmas’ copy until August 28) it necessitated that I had to indulge in some ‘speed reading’. I intend to review the book more thoroughly in one of my subsequent ‘Paperback’ pieces.

My first impression was that the story line was finely tuned; the research excellent (placing the Falklands in the South Pacific must have been an editorial clanger) and I liked the fact that William’s characters had a ‘believability’ about them.

The plot, which encompasses the irrational infatuation of a British Prime Minister for a girl half his age (at a time when all his efforts should have been focused on conflict of a more martial kind), is set around the time of the Great War (1914-1918). Adrift from the undiplomatic bumblings and finaglings of ‘The Cabinet’, in the real world a couple of Portsmouth soul mates, one a Royal Navy gunner, the other a shopkeeper both fall under the spell of an intriguing if somewhat opportunist girl who is already ‘in trouble’… so to speak! That this adds an interesting human facet to the tale goes without saying.

Tactically, in the ‘nouveau’ manner of many modern authors, William Daysh intertwines his parallel plots in such a way that whilst politicians are dithering about strategies, fierce sea battles are being fought and a prime minister pens emotional love letters rather than battle propaganda, life goes on ‘at home’ with business profiteers doing very nicely whilst grumbling about paying taxes to ‘finance’ a war which is rapidly making them rich.

Whilst a befogged and beleaguered British Parliament still believes that their enemy will ‘play the game’, German U-boats take a heavy toll on allied shipping. ‘Ruling the waves’ supremacy begins to waver. Kitchener is brought in to recruit front line ‘cannon-fodder’ and hoorah; the British public still believes it will be OVER BY CHRISTMAS.

This is undoubtedly a stirring, thought provoking story and a thoroughly entertaining read; I am sure that for William Daysh it will not be Over By Christmas!”

Malcolm Smith, Costa News, 12 September 2008