There is always great excitement in the book world when news gets around that Mills and Bang are about to announce their new season’s titles, and this week is no exception.
You know about Mills and Bang? No? Then you are in for a treat if you are a man, and if you are a woman too.
You see, men love war books.
And women love romance.
But Mills and Bang are the only publishers who have had the sense to combine the two, and create their very own genre called “military romance”!
A military romance brings you kissing and killing, war and passion, between the same covers. A Mills and Bang novel is a hard-boiled, soft-centred thriller where the men are all military, the women are all wayward, and the dogs are all big softies called Dandy who will lick your face to bits, or kill you on sight if you make one false move.
Like the sound of it?
Of course you do! So here are just a couple to tempt you from the new spring Mills and Bang book list!
The Lady With the Limp by Deborah Pestle (£19.99)
‘What kind of war do you think you’re going to have?’ said Major Fred Whymple to his oldest friend, Major Justin Bastauer-Lippschitz.
It was 1914. It was all about to start. They were both going to the Front tomorrow.
‘Well,’ said Major Bastauer-Lippschitz, ‘I think I’m going to have a pretty bad one if I don’t change my name pretty damned soon, to something a bit more British and a bit less German.’
‘Good point,’ said Whymple. ‘Like what?’
‘Oh, almost anything,’ said Justin Smithers.
‘Smithers!’ said Fred. ‘Good choice! And quick work!’
‘What about you?’ said Justin. ‘Your war, I mean?’
‘Oh, I’m going to get through the first two years without much trouble,’ said Fred Whymple, ‘but in 1916 I am going to get a nasty wound and be invalided home for a rest cure in Blighty. In the place they’re going to put me I’m going to meet the love of my life, a woman called Lady Venetia Ransom with a slight but rather sexy limp which bars her from active duty and who has volunteered for nursing duty. We are going to fall in love and get married and live happily ever after.’
In which everything happens as he forecasts, except that he was well enough to sent back to the Front in 1917 and get killed by a German bullet on his first day back.
The Bite-Runner by Lavinia Hawke (£19.99)
Every day, on the main road to Kabul, Major Andrew Sethmore and his men go past old Yussuf and his snack bar. Sometimes they stop to buy something. Usually they just wave. But when Yussuf’s beautiful grand-daughter Dali comes to work with him on the snack bar, things change a bit. Major Sethmore seems to need more provisions for his men than he ever used to, and stops every day to talk. Sometimes for hours on end.
‘She seems an interesting woman,’ says Sergeant Frank Roberts to the Major one day, trying not to sound too ironic.
‘Oh, she is fascinating,’ says the Major, detecting no irony. ‘Apart from anything else, she has some very go-ahead ideas on sandwich preparation and marketing. In fact, she has a working plan for a new Afghan savoury chain of snack outlets in London, which we really think would clean up if it got the right funding!’
‘Don’t you think we should clean up Helmand Province first, sir?’
But before he can reply, there is a huge explosion ahead. Moments later the men drag in the struggling, spitting form of the lovely Dali.
‘There’s your bomber, sir,’ they say, throwing her at his feet.
‘Look, chaps, there must be some mistake …’ says the Major.
Just over a year later, back home in London, the first of a new chain of Afghan eateries opens (called “Helmand Mayo”). The proud owners and proprietors? None other than the lovely Dali and ex-Sergeant Roberts! Hold on – how did Frank Roberts get in on this? Ah – read “The Bite-Runner” and find the full bitter-sweet story.
Yesterday I brought you details of a couple of the new spring books from Mills and Bang, publishers of fine military romance, and already orders are flooding in for them, so the appetite is obviously not dead for novels which bring my men and women readers together in that place where killing meets kissing, and romance meets the regiment.
A couple more today?
Oh, come on, yes – why not?!
A Place For Heroes To Rest by Rosie Parade (£1.99)
‘You’re new out here, ain’t you?’ said Captain Charlie Spinnock, as he rested on the sandbags and gazed out into the dusk.
‘In the sense that I arrived here yesterday,’ said Captain Arthur Kindling, ‘and that my kit hasn’t even arrived here today, yes, I am pretty new out here.’
He thought he and Kindling were probably going to get on pretty well together.
‘Over there,” he said, pointing to some distant lights, ‘are the German lines.’
From a long way off they could hear singing. Four part harmony. Every Friday night was Brahms Lieder practice. Half the voices were men singing falsetto.
‘Down here,’ said Spinnock, pointing nearer to hand, ‘are the British lines.’
From various lit up areas came the sound of rough singing. One of the groups was singing ‘It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary’. So were all the others. It was the only song the British knew. You’d think it would get on the Germans’ nerves after a while. Just then a shell flew over. It clearly did.
‘And the big black space between them and us is No Man’s Land,’ said Charlie.
‘And never was a space worse named’, came a voice from the dark behind them. ‘No Woman’s Land is what it should be called. It is a mess, a clutter. A disgrace. Just wait till I get my hands on it. May I introduce myself, gentlemen? Captain Jemima Cranston at your service.’
In the months and years to come Charlie and Arthur were never to meet anyone as redoubtable as Jemima. And what she said was very true. After she had got her hands on No Man’s Land it was never quite the same again. The whole soul, said some, had gone out of the place. But which one of the two British captains was she to get her hands on, and which of their two lives was she to clear up for ever? Ah, thereby hangs a tale!
And Noel Makes Three by Anne-Marie Howitzer (£19.99)
Captain Barney Mills was not a man in whose life the supernatural played much part. He had been at sea for thirty years, and never seen so much as a ship in a bottle which showed any palpable signs of visitation. But there was something about his present command, HMS Marvellous, which was different.
It was one of the oldest and grandest fighting vessels in the Royal Navy, for a start. Some of the original furnishings were almost antiques in their own right by now. And a succession of very distinguished personages had been on board. The Duke of Windsor, while he was still a proper duke, for a start. And he had discovered only today that the ship had played host to Noel Coward for several months, together with his travelling companion Jeffrey, Lord Amherst.
Coward loved being made welcome by the Navy. Everyone knew that. He and the Mounbattens were bosom companions.
So, did that explain the sounds he sometimes heard of laughter at the end of corridors, of distant tinkling cocktails? Did it explain the ghostly dying fall of singing, piano paying and applause, but always round the next corner?
Did it also explain the very warm feelings that Barney Mills felt toward his very handsome second-in-hand, young Jack Ticklefast?
Did the shade of Noel Coward want them both to be terribly, terribly happy?
He had no idea. But stranger things have happened at sea. Haven’t they, darling?
More choice fruits coming from Mills & Bang soon!
The Independent Wed Jan 23 and Thursday Jan 24 2008