Autumn 1940. France has fallen and England is next in Germany’s firing line. Billy will believe that when he sees it. War was declared a year ago, and despite all the gas masks and air raid shelters, nothing’s happened to Sheffield yet. In fact, the Second World War has turned out to be pretty boring so far, the most interesting development being a serial burglar striking during air raid false alarms. Billy and his younger sister Sally decide to work out which of the neighbours is responsible, but that means assuming the next siren signals only another false alarm. But the war is a lot closer than they think.
Put Out the Light by Terry Deary is a tale of two cities, and the other one is Dachau. I immediately expected something along the lines of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas from that half (though the English and German stories run concurrently), but Deary’s book is not quite so bleak, aimed as it is at slightly younger readers than John Boyne’s. Manfred and Hansl are circumstantial Nazis. They want to win the war simply for the sake of winning, but Nazism is just part of the national furniture for boys who have no memories of a time before Hitler. However, Manfred quickly learns of the complexities beneath the rhetorical simplicity of fascism when he comes into contact with a young Polish prisoner called Irena, and soon becomes involved in a plot to help her escape captivity.
I would have liked the book to have been longer. It’s a busy, busy pair of stories, which demands a certain suspension of disbelief from a jaded adult reader, especially when Billy and Manfred’s plotlines finally become entwined in the skies over northern England. Billy’s half of the book is definitely the stronger half. There’s a slight feeling of Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners about it, though told with a lighter touch. Ultimately it’s a straightforward but often rip-roaring adventure, set during – rather than being about – the Second World War.