Title: Dark September
Author: Brendan Gerad O’Brien
Genre: Historical WW2 fiction
Germany invades mainland Britain. Stormtroopers swarm ashore along the South Wales beaches, determined to capture the Welsh Steelworks and Coal Mines.
Newport is blitzed. Irishman Danny O’Shea’s house is bombed and his wife is killed. His young son Adam has learning difficulties. Terrified of what the Nazis will do to him, O’Shea tries to take him to neutral Ireland.
Penniless and desperate, they head for Fishguard. But on an isolated Welsh road they witness an attack on a German convoy by Welsh Nationalists. The convoy is carrying some mysterious boxes that were discovered in a secret laboratory near Brecon.
German Captain Eric Weiss, responsible for the boxes safe transfer to Berlin, knows that his job - even his life - depends on him getting them back.
But, following a major disagreement amongst the Welsh insurgents, the boxes disappear. Then O’Shea goes to the aid of a dying woman - and both the Germans and the insurgents believe she’s told him where the boxes are.
Suddenly O’Shea is separated from his son and catapulted into a world of betrayal and brutal double-cross. Pursued by both the Germans and the insurgents, his only concern is to find Adam and get him to safety.
Mrs Evans had closed her front door. O’Shea gave the brass knocker a quick rattle and listened to it echo in the hallway. After a few moments he heard the shuffling of her feet on the tiled floor.
‘Hello?’ Mrs Evans’ voice had a cautious tone as she pulled the door open just enough to see who it was.
‘Tis only us.’ O’Shea put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and guided him into her view. She gave a relieved sigh and opened the door wider.
A motorcycle roared into the street and they both jumped. The shiny black sidecar with German insignia lifted off the ground as the driver did a tight turn before sliding to a stop in a shower of dirt.
Everyone in the street turned to look at it. The men fighting the fire stopped in mid swing. And one or two lowered their buckets on the ground. Some women grabbed their children. Others shot back into their houses and slammed the doors.
In less than half a minute the only sound in the street was the purr of the motorcycle.
The soldier in the sidecar took off his goggles and his eyes narrowed against the watery sun. He looked startled by the sea of faces staring back at him. There was a map open on his lap. He glanced down at it then looked up again. The driver sat perfectly still. They both seemed very young. And very nervous.
‘Stupid bastard’s got himself lost.’ Mr Evans came out of the door and squeezed past O’Shea onto the pavement.
Nothing moved and the tension crackled in the stillness. The soldiers were getting increasingly anxious at the way everyone just stood gaping at them as if waiting for something to happen.
The man in the sidecar muttered to the driver and they both looked down at the map.
Then someone dropped a bucket and the sudden crash made the soldiers jump. The driver gave a strange squeal and revved the engine, making it roar like an angry bear. Then the motorcycle shot forward and tore off down Henry Street scattering everyone in its path.
They didn’t know Henry Street was a dead end. When they reached the bottom of the road they skidded to a halt. Obviously flustered now, the driver took a wide swing as he tried to turn around. But he misjudged the width of the street, bounced up onto the pavement and pinned the sidecar against the wall. And he got a flurry of abuse from the man in the sidecar.
The driver tried to move the bike backwards and in his panic he stalled the engine. Ripples of laughter from the watching crowd threw them into even more of a flap and their embarrassment was quickly turning into irritation.
It took three attempts to restart the engine. Then they roared back up the street. Everyone scattered again, running in all directions to get out of the way.
Little Elsie Taylor couldn’t run fast enough. The sidecar caught the back of her legs and threw her up in the air. And her head collided with the soldier’s helmet before she flipped over his back and landed in the middle of the road.
The screams of horror were drowned out by the roar of the motorcycle as it careered off the road onto the pavement. It clipped the wall of a house and spun back into the middle of the road. And once more the engine stalled.
A dreadful howl exploded from Mrs Evans as she charged out from behind O’Shea and ran up the road to where Elsie Taylor was sprawled on the ground.
Mr Evans followed her, mumbling incoherently and slapping his hands against his head. His lips were pulled back in a horrible snarl and words were coming out. But O’Shea couldn’t catch what he was saying.
Then the big man gave a heart-wrenching cry as he staggered across the road towards the motorcycle. ‘You mad bastards. You’ve killed our little girl. You’ve killed our Elsie.’
The driver looked shocked. The man in the sidecar was holding his head in his hands. Blood oozed from between his fingers. The driver yelled at him but he didn’t respond.
With the furious figure of Mr Evans rushing towards them the driver jumped on the pedal and tried to kick-start the engine again. But all he got was a dull sputter.
Mr Evans kept coming. The soldier pulled a pistol from his belt and waved it in the air. He was yelling. It was in German but the meaning was clear.
‘You stupid, murdering, sausage eating bastards.’ Mr Evans had spit dribbling down his chin. ‘You killed our little Elsie.’
The German pointed the pistol at the big man’s face but Mr Evans was having none of it. He reached out to grab the soldier and the soldier clipped him across the face with the pistol.
Mr Evans staggered back and his face glowed bright red with anger. He glared at the German as he held his cut jaw with shaking hands. Then, foolishly, he tried to grab him again.
Two shots hit him in the head. He dropped in the road and lay perfectly still.
All over the street people threw themselves to the ground. The man in the sidecar was suddenly alert, shaken by the gunshots. He whipped out a machine gun from somewhere and swung it in a wide arc. The look on his face was total alarm.
A woman screamed and dashed across the street to drag her children out of harm’s way. Another woman wrapped Elsie in a coat and was carrying her towards an open door. She froze for a second, glanced around then carried on.
The driver kicked at the motorcycle pedal again and squealed in rage when nothing happened.
A stone came from somewhere and clattered off his helmet. He gave a surprised cry and held his head. When he realised he wasn’t actually hurt he leapt off the motorcycle and waved the pistol around as he tried to spot the culprit.
What he saw was Mrs Evans stomping towards him with mad eyes and a ferocious snarl on her face. He staggered back against the motorcycle. His hand started to shake and he howled at the other soldier again.
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Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 6 November 2014
This book contains a unique feel that Brendan achieves through his detailed writing and knowledge. He has created characters that flow amazingly well with the story. Being a welsh girl myself I found myself transported to my grandmother's kitchen and reliving the strong welsh accent that I love so much. Brendan has managed to pack lots of tragic and interesting events into a quick, fast paced read without ever making the reader feel lost or rushed in any way. The writing is superb and the pace is breath-taking, but there should be a warning about the violence. It was sudden and disturbing. And as for the naughty bits … well! Anyway, despite all that I’m still giving it top stars. This is one author that I will definitely be keeping an eye on
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I was born in Tralee, Ireland and now live in Newport, South Wales.
As a child I spent my summer holidays in Listowel, Co Kerry where my uncle Moss Scanlon had a Harness Maker’s shop. It was a magnet for all sorts of colourful characters, and it was there that my love of storytelling was kindled by the likes of John B. Keane and Bryan MacMahon, who often wandered in for a chat and bit of jovial banter.