Monday, November 30, 2020

"Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers"

Tessa Arlen is the author of the critically acclaimed Lady Montfort mystery series—Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman was a finalist for the 2016 Agatha Award Best First Novel. She is also the author of Poppy Redfern: A Woman of World War II mystery series. And the author of the historical fiction: In Royal Service to the Queen.

Arlen lives in the Southwest with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers, the second title of the A Woman of World War II series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It was a forlorn group of women who were gathered around the long trestle table by the mess windows looking out on the airfield.

“Morning, Poppy. Breakfast? We usually have a large one because it might be the only chance we have to eat today.” June’s face was very pale, her eyes were red-rimmed with fatigue, but she was lacing into a plate of eggs, mushrooms, and what looked like some sort of tinned corned beef. It was a deadly-looking array of overcooked and greasy food. I shuddered. Even before the war, when an English cooked breakfast was the envy of the world, I never understood how people managed to eat platefuls of protein first thing in the morning.

“I would love a couple of slices of toast and a cup of coffee,” I said as Bess planted herself underneath June’s chair and looked up at her with a particularly yearning expression. She was rewarded with a corner of toast with scrambled eggs that looked like pale yellow rubber.

“No coffee for me; I’ll take tea,” Annie told the mess steward. “I want this war over soon, so we can have a good strong cup of real coffee with lots of sugar. What do they make this stuff with?” She had pushed away her coffee cup. “Parched acorns?”

Grable, after lifting her head briefly to say good morning, had gone back to staring bleakly out the window as she sipped coffee, and Annie became absorbed with making a toast sandwich with what looked like fried Spam, but her heart wasn’t in it. The Spam slithered out from between the toast, and she pushed it aside with an impatient exclamation. None of them looked like they had slept well; their faces were wan, their eyes clouded with exhaustion. If there was someone sitting at this table who had caused Edwina’s accident, her conscience had given her a rough going-over last night.
The Page 69 test worked quite well: it certainly gives us a good idea of what it would be like to eat breakfast in England during WWII!

But there is something else going on here too! The paragraphs from this page sum up the reactions and shock of a group of women pilots whose comrade, Edwina, was killed in an accident flying a Spitfire for a propaganda about the glamorous Air Transport Auxiliary pilots: The Attagirls.

A bit of background on the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA): The women pilots of the ATA whose wartime job was to deliver planes from factories to military airfields were only glamorous Attagirls to the outsider. In reality their days were long, and often dangerous. Seasonal fog and ice storms contributed to the danger of flight particularly if you were delivering an open cockpit Tiger Moth to Scotland. The barrage balloons that protected the airway above military airfields were pulled down when friendly planes approached, but if there was an air raid warning were immediately released to provide a navigational nightmare. And not all air raid ground staff were adept at telling the difference between a German Heinkel or a British Hurricane from the ground and in their ignorance often opened fire on a British or American plane.

But it is the last sentence that gives us a clue that all is not well. “None of them looked like they had slept well; their faces were wan, their eyes clouded with exhaustion. If there was someone sitting at this table who had caused Edwina’s accident, her conscience had given her a rough going-over last night.”

This observation is made by the protagonist, Poppy Redfern, who is a script writer for the Crown Film Unit which made short films about civilians who do brave things in wartime. When Edwina appeared to crash her Spitfire Poppy was standing on the edge of the airfield as the film crew shot Edwina’s demonstration of skill at piloting a Spitfire. And to Poppy’s observant mind there was something about the dead pilot’s demeanor before she flew that day and her relationship with some of her ATA friends that caused her concern. It is these perceived signals that prompts Poppy to eat breakfast with this group of close friends before they leave to deliver planes, to see how they are faring after the accident. But little does she realize that her premonitions of danger are justified. Within hours of the Attagirls departure another of them falls to her death in what will also be termed as an “accident.”
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

See Tessa Arlen’s top five historical novels.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

The Page 69 Test: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

My Book, The Movie: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

The Page 69 Test: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

My Book, The Movie: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

The Page 69 Test: A Death by Any Other Name.

The Page 69 Test: Death of an Unsung Hero.

Writers Read: Tessa Arlen (November 2019).

The Page 69 Test: Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders.

Q&A with Tessa Arlen.

--Marshal Zeringue