Monday, August 27, 2012

Review of The Last Sunrise by Robert Ryan (Headline Review, 2006)

1941 and Lee Crane has arrived in Burma en-route to Southern China, part of Flying Tigers, a volunteer American air force assembled by Colonel Claire Lee Chennault to aid the Chinese fight against the Japanese.  Training in the Burmese jungle he meets Kitten Mahindra, an Anglo-Indian widow and they start a romantic affair.  Then Crane is shipped out over ‘the hump’, the towering Himalayas, to China, the Japanese invade Burma, and Crane loses contact with Kitten.  When the Flying Tigers are absorbed in the United States Army Air Force, Crane falls out with Chennault and transfers from flying a fighter to a cargo plane.  Come 1943, Crane is an old hand at crossing the hump, transporting goods, personnel, mail and gold to fund the Chinese war effort.  On one trip he transports a young SOE agent, Laura McGill, from Calcutta to Southern China.  He’s persuaded into starting a friendship with her by an OSS agent, the forerunner of the CIA, eager to find out what the British are up to in what the Americans consider a United States sphere of influence, but the relationship remains nothing more than platonic.  1948 in Singapore and Crane is still ferrying cargo around South East Asia, Laura is in Berlin, and he still hasn’t found out what happened to Kitten.  Then some old friends turn up wanting him to fly them all back to a shared secret, a secret that heralds danger and reward.  In return they’ll tell him where to find Kitten.   

The Last Sunrise tells the story of Lee Crane’s time in South East Asia between 1941 and 1948.  The narrative shuttles back and forth between 1941, 1943/44 and 1948, with the scenes concerning the latter told in the first person.  Despite the changes in perspective and the splicing of the timeline, this is a straightforward tale of wartime adventure and romance.  It is competently told and is reasonably engaging, and it draws on real historical events, but the story lacks a real edge despite the various action sequences and rivalries between characters.  It all seemed a little formulaic and there were no real surprises.  Crane is reasonably well drawn as the principled but naive officer, accompanied by a colourful set of stock characters (the femme fatale, the scheming spy, the resourceful but straight-laced young operative, the wide-boy co-pilot, etc), but I never really connected with or cared for any of them.  The result was a competent and pleasant read, but one that didn’t sparkle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. Perhaps this one wasn't as memorable and special as some others you've read but the time and setting are really interesting to me. I'm glad you found it competently done.