cover image Dauntless: Novel of Midway and Guadalcanal

Dauntless: Novel of Midway and Guadalcanal

Barrett Tillman. Bantam Books, $20 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-553-07528-1

The hero of this impressive retro-techno-thriller, too, is an airplane. Douglas Dauntless dive-bombers turned the tide of the Pacific War by sinking four Japanese carriers at Midway, and played a crucial role in the Guadalcanal campaign. Tillman, a veteran writer of air fiction ( Warriors ) and nonfiction ( On Yankee Station ), reconstructs the details of carrier war accurately and convincingly: the ready rooms, the flight deck, the cockpits. The sinking of the Yorktown by a Japanese submarine, and the murder of a U.S. pilot by his captors, stand out as particularly effective episodes. Tillman can create characters as well: maverick Japanese pilot Hiroyoshi Sakuda, Navy ensign Phil Rogers, Marine lieutenant Jim Carpenter and other characters are true to their respective types, and so smoothly integrated with historical figures (Commander Max Leslie, Admiral Chester Nimitz) that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish Tillman's creations from the real people. Rogers' refreshing romance with Honolulu librarian Sallyann Downey follows the amorous conventions of 1940s rather than those of a steamier and more liberated era. And yet Dauntless suffers from trying to do too much in its pages. The novel's many secondary characters, together with its kaleidoscopic shifts from scene to scene, make the story line hard for civilian readers to follow. That reservation aside, Tillman here treats a crucial period of WW II in exciting fashion. (May)