Werner's Reviews > Dave Dawson on the Russian Front

Dave Dawson on the Russian Front by R. Sidney Bowen
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's review
Sep 15, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: adventure-fiction, action-heroines, childrens
Recommended for: Uncritical action adventure/action heroine fans
Read from April 12 to 15, 2016

Note, April 15, 2016: Normally I don't rewrite a review, especially when a number of people have already liked the old one (I usually feel it's not fair to them to "bait and switch"). However, in this case, the first review was written from memory of a read back in ca. 1962, as a 10-year-old child. A rereading from an adult perspective (the above dates are for this second read) distinctly changed my impression of the book, and exposed factual errors in the first review; so here, a rewrite was an absolute necessity.

This book was part of a series, although my school library had only this volume. Written as patriotic escape fiction for older kids (the writing style is definitely geared to that age group, though if I picked up on that fact during the first read, I forgot it in the interim) during World War II, it features American ace fighter pilot Dave Dawson and his British sidekick, Freddy Farmer, brave, two-fisted action heroes who apparently serve the Allied cause in a detached intelligence service capacity, pitted against Nazi villains. (How they got that status is presumably explained --at least to the satisfaction of kids who don't know much about how World War II military intelligence really operated-- earlier in the series.)

The McGuffin that drives the plot of this particular book is a Russian national named Ivan Nikolsk --or rather the knowledge in his head. It's now 1943; but before the war, he had long been resident in Germany, and by 1939, just before the invasion of Poland, he had come into possession of Hitler's detailed plan for the conduct of the coming war. Of course, it should be painfully obvious that no, the Germans would NOT have entered the war with a detailed five or six year plan of operations (especially when they expected the conflict to be over quickly), and that even if they had been that stupid, it would have had to have been modified beyond all recognition by a myriad of completely unforeseeable new developments between 1939 and 1943. But that fact doesn't occur to Bowen's characters; Allied intelligence wants this plan like Arthurian knights wanted the Holy Grail. Ivan's last known location was his native village of Tobolsk, inside German-occupied Russia.

How Allied intelligence knows all this, and why they didn't get the plan in 1939, is a pretty convoluted tale, seasoned with considerable improbability and coincidence. The plan to get Ivan out of Tobolsk also has its complexities. The briefing in which all of this is explained, in fact, takes up five chapters (out of 19), preceded by a first chapter that only tries to build up suspense. After that, though, the action gets going, taking our heroes from England to Scotland, then to Moscow by air, and from there to the Russian front, and involving various combats and jeopardies in the air and on land, every step of the way. While in Russia, they have the valuable help of a beautiful Soviet Intelligence officer, Senior Lieutenant Nasha Petrovsky, who's from Tobolsk and knows the area in detail. (Her other qualifications include the fact that she has 306 confirmed kills of enemy combatants to her credit --and that was before the events in this book....) Even for an adult reader, the action adventure components here, in the pulp tradition of that day (which I happen to like) are exciting enough, though Bowen has a tendency to overwrite in an attempt to gin up the feelings of danger and suspense, and to over-explain the obvious.

Bowen's view of Stalin's Russia tends to be rather rose-tinted, colored, as I recognized even as a child, by the wartime alliance, and a felt need to put our "allies" in a good light. (It's not likely that any high-ranking general in a militantly atheist regime would ever wish anyone Godspeed, or promise his prayers --though I did appreciate the couple of references here to dependence on, and gratitude for, God's help!) By the same token, some of the language here tends to demonize Germans per se (not just Nazis). None of the characters are developed very deeply, and the simple good vs. evil message and celebration of "masculine" virtues (which are actually just unisex virtues --Bowen doesn't use the term "masculine," and to his credit, he has his hero recognize that Nasha's courage and spirit are equal to any man's) aren't particularly subtle. There's no bad language in the book, and no sex or romance (both Dave and Freddie feel a natural basic male attraction to Nasha, but nothing that's genuinely serious nor given much attention). Obviously, violence goes with war stories; there's plenty of it here, and a high body count, but Bowen doesn't make it any more gory than it needs to be.

Some "children's" literature can appeal to adults; but in this case, I think most adults would want something with deeper characterization and a more believable premise. Bowen's prose, IMO, would also probably grate on many adults, with its combination of frequently overwrought style and heavy use of 40s slang and colloquialisms --a little bit of exclamations like "Suffering catfish!" goes a long way. (Ironically, the spoken diction here is a lot closer to ours than the medieval dialect or Regency speech of other novels I've read recently; but where the former just sounds appropriately ...medieval, and the latter sounds elegant, a great deal of 40s lingo just sounds dated and corny.) A fairer question would be, would pre-teen kids like it? They may be less critical; the series was apparently popular enough with them in its own day, I liked it at 10 (though I'd read most anything at that age!), and judging by my grandsons, a lot of boys would probably see the violence as a plus. :-) I think, though, that a lot of the style would have an oppressively dated feel for them as well; and for them, WWII is practically prehistoric, not a present concern as it was in 1943. So all of these factors would probably greatly limit the book's appeal today.
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Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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message 1: by Nina (new)

Nina Werner sounds interesting. I had two granddaughters who lived for a year in Siberia.

Werner Getting to live in Siberia for a year would probably be a much more interesting experience than reading this book! In the review above (which I'm going to rewrite when I finish this read), I said I didn't recall anything that would suggest it was written for children, but after some 46 years, my recall was faulty; it's most definitely a kid's book, and doesn't stand up well to an adult reread. When I re-do the review, I'm currently expecting to drop my rating to two stars. :-(

message 3: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Zapata Great review! The title caught my eye, Werner. Where had I seen the name Dave Dawson before, I wondered? Oh, of course: Gutenberg! On the off chance you ever want to read others in the series, here they are. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/searc...

Werner Thanks, Debbie! Wow, Bowen wrote no less than 14 of these books! Evidently, his readers at the time thought that he was doing something right. I don't plan to follow up with the series --but if I'd had a chance to back when I was a kid, I would have. :-)

message 5: by Urs (new)

Ohmygoodness, just looking at the cover and the title, I would never choose this book to read, but you made it so much more appealing for me with your review! *lolol* I am not surprised, and you are awesome! :D

Werner Thanks, Urs! If you ever want to pass time with a bit of light, escapist brain candy, you could pick a lot worse books than this one. :-) Even reading it as an adult, I rated it as okay, rather than as a book I actually didn't like.

message 7: by Urs (new)

Urs Werner wrote: "Thanks, Urs! If you ever want to pass time with a bit of light, escapist brain candy, you could pick a lot worse books than this one. :-) Even reading it as an adult, I rated it as okay, rather tha..."
Oh, I am sure! You definitely made it SO much more interesting than I would have imagined! I already went over to Amazon to check out some pricing. :)

Werner If you read and review any of these books, Urs, I'll be interested in reading your thoughts. :-)

message 9: by Urs (new)

Urs Werner wrote: "If you read and review any of these books, Urs, I'll be interested in reading your thoughts. :-)"
OK, thanks for that encouragement! :)

message 10: by Jean (new)

Jean "a little bit of exclamations like "Suffering catfish!" goes a long way" LOL Werner! And how I recognise the 10-year old who will read anything they can lay their hands on...

Great review, thanks :)

Werner Thank you, Jean!

message 12: by Elyse (new)

Elyse love the special childish feeling!

Werner Yes, Elyse, for me the read was an enjoyable excursion down memory lane, and I could recall my childhood feelings of excitement and fascination at certain parts! (Shoot, they're still exciting and fascinating, even if I know the outcome. :-) )

message 14: by Elyse (new)

Elyse I like this side of you Werner! (smiling here)

Werner Thanks, Elyse! :-)

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