Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review of Early One Morning by Robert Ryan (2002, Headline)

The mid-1920s, William Grover-Williams flees Ireland and his life as an IRA get-a-way driver to France. There he gets work as a chauffeur for William Orpen, an Irish artist whose muse and mistress is Eve Aubicq. Williams and Aubicq start an affair and marry, and she seed-finances his foray into racing cars. A natural driver, he is soon driving for Bugatti in grand prixs with his team mate and rival, Robert Benoist, a former First World War fighter ace. Benoist, Williams and Aubicq form a close friendship at and away from race circuits. When the Second World War starts Williams heads for England where he enlists, before being recruited into SOE. He’s then dropped back into France, reuniting with his wife and setting up a resistance network with Benoist and fellow racing driver, Jean-Pierre Wimille. As they build their network and start to undertake actions, the German SD are closing in, determined to put a halt to their work.

Early One Morning is a fictionalised account of the true story of William Grover-Williams, Eve Aubicq and Robert Benoist. Built around Williams, the tale covers from the mid-20s to the end of the war, with a separate thread tracing Williams’ SOE handler still seeking answers many years later. The main focus is the war years, especially Williams’ recruitment and training for SOE, his drop back into France and his work building a network with Benoist, and subsequent capture and internment in France and Sachsenhausen concentration camp. As with all such fictionalised accounts of real people and events there is always a question as to the extent to which the author has taken artistic license with history, and undoubtedly Ryan has filled in detail – speculating on dialogue and action, and altering timelines for dramatic effect. But the broad arc seems roughly faithful, detailing the daring lives of two racing drivers and one of their wives. A little bit of a slow burner, the book picks up pace, intrigue and emotional resonance as it progresses. Overall, an interesting and engaging read.

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