(Jeff Janoda. 2019)
We at TVC are not particularly interested in the experiences of German pilots stationed in Southern Russia in December 1942, and so we would not have picked up Sundog, had we not known that its author, Canadian Jeff Janoda was also the author of the terrific, Saga A Novel of Medieval Iceland. Janoda justified our faith. It would have been our loss, had we judged this book by its subject matter. The settings of the two novels could not be more different, but the concise, detailed and historically rich style are the same.
Sundog is a truly ripping yarn, a tale of derring-do for adults, told with psychological depth and consistency. The story of each of the pilots – compassionate Fraser, his disturbingly dependent protege Lau, Leutnant Eichorn
of the ravaged face, intense Major Konnet and even Air Marshall von Richthofen (cousin of the more famous baron) is given thoughtful treatment as we follow the struggles for supremacy within the German ranks in the
wasteland of a war that is lost. The erstwhile stringent tiers of military hierarchy are strained by personal triumphs, failures and preferences.
Sundog is action-packed. The reader would do well to pay attention to the historical notes, glossaries and maps at the rear of the book, or there is a danger of losing track of the to-ing and fro-ing between airbases.
It’s important to keep track of German military terms such as gruppe and staffel. (We have two minor quibbles, about this meticulously drawn book. Firstly strangely, although there are descriptions of aircraft such as the
Russian Yak and the German Stuka, there is no description in the glossary of the most commonly-appearing German workhorse fighter, the Gustav. Second – there is a risk of confusing some of the many lesser characters.
They are not always readily distinguishable – the reader is advised to keep a list.)
Janoda draws us into the vivid world of the last days of World War II in Russia – the snow, fear, hunger and illness. Men living in burnt-out airplane shells in below freezing temperatures. Young pilots learning intricate flying
manoeuvres one day and executing them the next, for real, against enemy fighters, mere hundreds of feet from the frozen ground. The fights are excitingly told:
“The Yak disintegrated under the burst, throwing back a storm of debris. Fraser screamed out in triumph, his teeth bared as if in a fight of the flesh. Thuds sounded along his fighter’s wing root, the Gustav pitching from the impacts of the doomed enemy aircraft’s pieces. Gouts of oil struck his windscreen suddenly, startling him out of his savage fugue, lubricants released from the Yak’s torn engine. He could see nothing ahead of him.
”Break!” Eichorn shouted, “Break!”
Fraser braked away frantically into the clear. The side of his canopy remained open in broad swatches, although heavily dotted with oil. He watched the destroyed Yak plummet to the ground, trailing flames.”
Sundog is on a par with Saga, – addictive and thrilling – despite its vastly different subject matter. We await Mr Janoda’s next novel with interest. Where will he go next? We are sure to be going with him.