James Hamilton-Paterson is the author of the bestselling Empire of the Clouds, which was hailed as a classic account of the golden age of British aviation. He won a Whitbread Prize for his first novel, Gerontius, and among his many other celebrated books are Seven-Tenths, one of the finest books written in recent times about the oceans, the satirical trilogy that began with Cooking with Fernet Branca, and the autobiographical Playing With Water. Born and educated in England, he has lived in the Philippines and Italy and now makes his home in Austria.
1961. A squadron of Vulcan aircraft, Britain's most lethal nuclear bomber, flies towards the east coast of the United States. Highly manoeuvrable, the great delta-winged machines are also equipped with state of the art electronic warfare devices that jam American radar systems. Evading the fighters scrambled to intercept them, the British aircraft target Washington and New York, reducing them to smoking ruins. They would have done, at least, if this were not an exercise. This extraordinary raid (which actually took place) opens James Hamilton-Paterson's remarkable novel about the lives of British pilots at the height of the Cold War, when aircrew had to be on call 24 hours a day to fly their nuclear-armed V-bombers to the Western USSR and devastate the lives of millions. This is the story of Squadron-Leader Amos McKenna, a Vulcan pilot who is suffering from desires and frustrations that are tearing his marriage apart and making him question his ultimate loyalties. Relations with the American cousins are tense; the future of the RAF bomber fleet is in doubt. And there is a spy at RAF Wearsby, who is selling secrets to his Russian handlers in seedy East Anglian cafes. A macabre Christmas banquet at which aircrew under intolerable pressures go crazy, with tragic consequences, and a dramatic and disastrous encounter with the Americans in the Libyan desert, are among the high points of a novel that surely conveys the beauty and danger of flying better than any other in recent English literature.
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