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A Killing for the Hawks
A Killing for the Hawks
by Frederick E. Smith
Published by von Hammer
24 September 2016
Author review
Average 80%
A Killing for the Hawks

A Killing for the Hawks
by Frederick E. Smith

Hardcover: 252 pages
Publisher: D. McKay Co; [1st American ed.] edition (1967)
ASIN: B0007E85P6

For some men do cherish life
and some men life destroy,
and all the breadth of heaven lies between them.
Curb then thy barren contentions
lest again the hawks have a killing.

A Killing for the Hawks, written by Fredrick E. Smith in 1966 and currently out of print, is a well-blended WWI novel about war, friendship, love, disillusionment and revenge. The main protagonist is Norman McConnell, a young but level-headed American who begins serving in the Royal Flying Corps in the spring of 1917. Joining the 55th pursuit squadron McConnell falls under the sway of the Squadron Commander John Seymour: a handsome, charismatic super-ace who is essentially a British version of Manfred von Richthofen, complete with a loyal bulldog named Sultan. Lionized by the French and British press and public and idolized by his pilots, Saymour is everything an Allied aviator aspires to be, and while McConnell is not an ambitious man he is grateful for the Commander’s leadership and is in awe of Saymour’s prowess in aerial combat, all of which seem to justify the hero-worship Saymour is accorded.

However, McConnell’s flight leader, Charlie Bush, is no fan of Saymour and could not be any more different from the aristocratic Commander. An ‘old’ pilot (at age twenty-nine) Bush is a self-taught, working-class man from the English slums and wants nothing more than for the war to be over so he can take care of his young son and sickly mother, his wife having died of tuberculosis. Cautious and highly caring and protective of the men he leads, Bush is seen almost as a coward by many in the squadron who believe his nerves are giving out. He is war-weary, cynical, hates Germans and English aristocrats equally and unreservedly, and sees nothing sporting or glorious about being an air-ace but remains too proud to call it quits and leave the younger pilots to face the likes of Richthofen and Voss alone without proper guidance and protection. McConnell, being new and inexperienced, respects both men and tries to find his own place in the squadron. After Saymour is grievously wounded by ground-fire McConnell later lightly wounded and while on convalescent leave he meets and has an affair with a beautiful yet tormented woman – who turns out to be Saymour’s wife, Helen, who tells him some unsavory truths regarding her famous husband’s true nature and character. When Saymour himself finds out about McConnell’s misdeed a slow and sadistic drama of revenge is played out to a totally unexpected conclusion.

Apart from the taut and riveting combat scenes, what makes A Killing for the Hawks stand out is that it has a little bit of everything required in making a well-rounded story. The romance aspects do not impede upon the action at the Front nor vice-versa. All the characters are memorable, even those that are doomed to die. There is action and reflection, combat advice and theory, love and hate, the horrific brutality of war – oh, and have you ever imagined what it’s like to start burning to death in the cockpit of an S.E.5?
The author makes the reader question strongly just who the real heroes of the air are: the old war-weary Charlie Bushes, the honest, naïve Norman McConnells or the ruthless, glamorized John Saymours?

While this book is out of print it is easily and cheaply accessible. Easily just as good as the Blue Max and In The Company of Eagles (which I hope to be reviewing soon in the near future) and certainly on par with Winged Victory, owing to an ending that, while far more dramatic and character-driven, is just as hopeless and tragic.

Four out of fives stars
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