If you’ve never recognized the contribution of Canadian aviators during World War II or fully grasped some of Nazi Germany’s horrors, EO-N (Hellbox Editions) will open your eyes.
Those things alone make it a novel worth reading but fail to capture just what a terrific debut novel this is. Author Dave Mason (not the famous musician who played with Jimi Hendrix on “All Along the Watchtower”) is a graphic designer and software entrepreneur who may have found his calling. EO-N is part family mystery and part military thriller, thoroughly supported by what must have been a passionate quest for historic accuracy.
The story pivots back and forth from the present to the end days of World War II. The fulcrum is Alison Wiley, a successful but vaguely unhappy biotech executive seeking a cancer cure who fears the loss of her idealism as profit pressures grow on her company.
Nose closeup of a de Havilland Mosquito FB Mk IV, the type of craft flown by Barton
After both her brother and mother die, Wiley sorts through her mother’s belongings and finds an old telegram. It reveals an intriguing mystery around the disappearance of her grandfather, Jack Barton, who piloted a de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber for the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II.
In the present, Barton’s long-missing plane has been discovered in the ice of a remote Norwegian glacier after a boy and his dog stumble upon intriguing clues of what’s below. But the more that’s found, the more things don’t add up.
As surely would happen in real life, the discovery of a missing World War II bomber in a glacier prompts the authorities to seal the area and start digging for answers, and that includes Scott Wilcox, a former combat medic turned government investigator. Wilcox reaches out to Wiley, as she is the aviator’s closest living relative. She heads to Norway, seeking a respite from the pressures she’s under in Seattle, for what will turn out to be the trip of her life in every way.
Aerial view of Norway’s Folgefonna glacier, near where Barton’s fighter-bomber was found
Mason deftly moves the focus to 1945 with calculated reveals of not only Barton’s story but also the tale of Nazi Major Gunther Graf. Mason seems most comfortable with his male characters, and the story arcs of these two men are what give the book special energy and drive its most powerful scenes.
In theory, they’re foes, but their lives run on parallel tracks. Both men have found success as fighter pilots. Both men can’t wait to get home to their families. The key difference can be measured in their levels of bitterness and regret. Although Barton feels burned out, he knows the Allied cause is just. By contrast, Graf has grown disillusioned by the killing he’s inflicted in a cause he no longer supports, and the horrors he discovers at a Nazi facility push him beyond the edge.
It’s not a spoiler to say you can see where this is going: Five lives — two in the present and three in the past — will converge in Norway. How it all happens and the revelations that await form the essence of EO-N.
Mason certainly isn’t the first author to use the horrors of Nazi Germany as scaffolding for an interesting story with relevance for today. What makes EO-N special is how Mason does it with fresh eyes, an intriguing plot and the deftness of a confident writer. For my money, it should rank among 2020’s top debut novels.
Born in England and raised in Canada, Dave Mason is an internationally recognized graphic designer, a Fellow of The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, and a co-founder of a number of software companies. He divides his time between Chicago, Illinois, and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. EO-N is his first novel.
Dennis Hetzel is the author of two award-winning thrillers, Killing the Curse and Season of Lies, that blend the worlds of politics and sports. His third novel, Azalea Bluff, is scheduled for publication in early 2021 by Headline Books. He began his career as a weekly newspaper sports editor near his native Chicago and became an award-winning reporter, editor and newspaper publisher before retiring in 2019 as executive director of the Ohio News Media Association. He also taught journalism at Penn State and Temple universities. He has a degree in political science from Western Illinois University. His firm, Fresh Angle Communications, provides writing, editing and government relations consulting. He lives in Holden Beach NC. To learn more, visit his website.