Monday, March 02, 2009

Boxcar Down

Boxcar Down: The Albanian Incident by Charles L. Lunsford
(BookSurge / 1-419-61713-3 / 978-1-419-61713-3 / November 2005 / 630 pages / $21.99)

Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

Set in 1958 during the height of the Cold War, Boxcar Down: The Albanian Incident is the story of Airman Second Class Jim Wilson, the radio operator on a C-119 “Flying Boxcar” which is shot down during a secret courier mission when it inadvertently strays into Albanian airspace. Wilson, the only survivor of the crash, is forced to take charge of the dead courier’s pouch and dredge up his skimpy “evasion” training to avoid capture while trying to make it back into friendly territory. Aided by Albanian partisans secretly fighting the communist regime, and hunted by both the Albanian police and the Russian army, Wilson manages to contact friendly radio operators by Morse code with a vintage WWII spy suitcase radio, and the American Air Force scrambles to safely extract him without causing an international incident.

The author, Charles L. Lunsford, is a former Airborne Radio Operator and one of the very last to be trained in Morse code operation. His experience serving “very close to the Iron Curtain when the Cold War was not so cold” provides the inspiration for this fictional tale and his in-depth knowledge of this field and this time period are what make Boxcar Down a treasure of historical information. Lunsford participated in secret night courier missions and reports that the Albanians often took “pot shots” at his aircraft. In this book he provides fascinating details about the talents of those unsung heroes, the radio operators, and the use of Morse code as communication, all without interrupting his storyline. In fact, the Morse code exchanges between Mr. Marseilles in France, Witherspoon in Germany, Robinson aboard the rescue aircraft, and Wilson in Albania become a form of dialogue themselves. That’s not to disparage the author’s craft with more conventional dialogue, which I found realistic and a pleasure to read.

I am certain that Mr. Lunsford’s experience also plays a part in the relationship between officers and enlisted men that is explored throughout the book. The haughty attitude of some officers toward the non-coms and their tendency to stick together, right or wrong, plays a direct role in the navigational mistake which results in Boxcar 7844 going down. By contrast, the camaraderie between officers and the enlisted men aboard the Boxcar 8145 is presented as a foil to the other crew, making it plain to the reader that mutual respect breeds success.

I enjoyed the style and adventurous plot of Boxcar Down, as well as the multitude of vivid characters – and there are dozens of them in this 600+ page novel. There are some editing errors – misspellings and missing punctuation mostly – but (unusually for me) they didn’t disturb my enjoyment of the story. Occasionally, I felt that I needed to suspend my disbelief in Jim Wilson’s incredible luck, but the same could be said of any novel featuring Dirk Pitt or Jack Ryan. In fact, I enjoyed this novel much more than the last Clive Cussler and Dan Brown adventures I read. Jim Wilson is an engaging character and his adventures are highly plausible. This is a recommended read for radio enthusiasts and fans of historical or military adventure or espionage thrillers.

See Also: The High Spirits Review
The Authors Den Review
Charles Lunsford's Authors Den page

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