Independent novel review: The Jossing Affair

By J.L. Oakley

This is an amazingly good book.

The Jossing Affair reminds me of Dr. Zhivago: it’s a story that helps us understand a world-changing, vicious conflict through a close focus on a few people caught in it. At its heart, it’s actually a realistic love story.

Janet Oakley is an author I admire. She has a clear, simple style that puts the reader right into the story and brings the Norwegian landscape and seas to life.

Like me, she writes historical fiction set in places and eras that most people would consider obscure. When most of us think of the Second World War, I don’t think the Norwegian occupation and resistance comes top-of-mind. We know something about it, like the word “quisling,” meaning a treacherous person who cooperates with the enemy, from the name of Norway’s collaborator Minister President Vikrun Quisling. But I think few in the U.S. or Canada are really familiar with the history, the resistance inside the country or the acts of the Norwegians who escaped the country to continue the fight from the U.K. and elsewhere.

Here’s the situation: in 1944, Norway has been suffering Nazi Germany’s brutal occupation for four years. Tore Haugland is a teacher who escaped to Scotland, then along with other Norwegians, trained in espionage under the British before coming back to Norway’s west coast. There, he assumes an identity as Jens Hansen, a deaf-mute fisherman. His false disability leads most people in the village of Fjellstad to assume he’s also slow-witted.

But Haugland/Jensen has another role: he sets up a secret radio transmitter to communicate with the Allies, and helps coordinate the “Shetland Bus”—secret transportation across the North Sea, smuggling out escapers and bringing in resistance fighters, weapons and supplies.

It’s the most dangerous kind of work, because jossing, or “patriot” Haugland is up against smart quislings, including Norway’s second-worst war criminal, Henry Oliver Rinnan, head of a Norwegian Gestapo unit.

As Haugland goes about spying, he meets Anna Fromme, known as “the German woman” or simply “the Woman” in the village. People assume she’s a quisling, because she is German, and shun her.

But Anna is the widow of another jossing, Einar Fromme, who was arrested, tortured and executed by Rinnan. Of course, Anna did not know anything about her husband’s resistance activities. Even though she moves to the tiny village of Fjellstad after his death, suspicion that she had something to do with it follows her.

Haugland knows who she is, and feels a deep attraction. But he feels he cannot act on this attraction because that would expose both of them to great danger.

A highly skilled author

The tension in this book starts high, and steadily gets higher. That’s something that requires skill on the part of an author. Oakley keeps raising the stakes as the resistance’s missions become more dangerous, the Gestapo gets closer, the Germans retreat in Russia, Poland and France, and Haugland and Anna fall deeper in love.

By the second half of the book, it’s clear the Germans are losing the war. But there’s not a lot of Allied action in Norway in 1944—in fact, Norway was the last country to be liberated from the Germans, days after V-E Day. And despite the fact they know there is no way they can win—or maybe because of it—the Germans and the quislings get more and more brutal.

I love the way that Oakley wove real historical elements into this story. Rinnan was a real person, and Oakley describes his physical appearance perfectly. Other historical characters appearing in the book include Rinnan’s right-hand man, Karl Dolmen, and Conrad Bonnevie-Svendsen, a priest, minister for the deaf and resistance leader.

Doing this is not easy—I know. I marvel at the historical research that must have gone into this book. When I met the author last year, she told me about her trip to Norway specifically to do research for this book.

Congratulations, Janet Oakley, on the accomplishment of The Jossing Affair. It’s historically accurate (as far as I can tell), interesting and exciting; a rich story with strong, fascinating and utterly believable characters.

5 *****

Find it on J.L. Oakley’s website, or buy it today from Amazon.

Book launch: Under the Nazi Heel


It’s book launch day for the follow-up to Army of Worn Soles: Under the Nazi Heel tells the true story of Maurice Bury, the Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941, as he joins the struggle for Ukrainian independence.

The book has a terrific cover designed by David C. Cassidy and was edited by the matchless Gary Henry and proofread by the Typo Detective, Joy Lorton. Thanks for all the help!

What’s it about?

Under the Nazi Heel

Walking Out of War, Book 2

For Ukrainians in 1942, the occupying Germans were not the only enemy.

Maurice Bury was drafted into the Red Army just in time to be thrown against the invading Germans in 1941. Captured and starved in a POW camp, he escaped and made his way home to western Ukraine, where the Nazi occupiers pursued a policy of starving the locals to make more “living space” for Germans.

To protect his family, Maurice joins the secret resistance. He soon finds Ukraine faces multiple threats. Maurice and his men are up against Soviet spies, the Polish Home Army and enemies even closer to home.

Experience this seldom seen phase of World War 2 through the eyes of a man who fought and survived Under the Nazi Heel.

It’s available on Amazon for just $2.99. And if you buy it by March 5, send me an email and I’ll send you a bonus e-book, Jet: Stealth.

Get previews

Want to read a few preview? Some very gracious book bloggers are hosting excerpts.

Getting back to writing

Writing the first paragraph of anything is always difficult, because there’s so much pressure. That first paragraph, even more so, the first sentence, has to do so much: set the scene, get the story moving and grab the reader’s attention.
But I took a lot of pleasure from that pressure last week and wrote an opening for my next book, after a long period of spending my writing time doing other things. Things that are rewarding and worthwhile, but aren’t writing.

What have I been doing?

  • editing three excellent and very different books for colleagues, including David C. Cassidy, author of Velvet Rain and the upcoming The Dark
  • traveling with my lovely and very tolerant wife to France (well, that was just a week, but still)
  • finalizing the print version of my latest book, Army of Worn Soles—print is much less tolerant of mistakes than e-books are
  • working on revamping my website, which sad to say, still isn’t done.
In fact, my attempts to improve my website have so far had the opposite effect: they’ve rendered it unviewable by any browser. Oh, I still have the files, but I’ve done something in the coding that creates a looping redirect. So for the past couple of weeks, my spare home-office time has been taken up with researching cheap or free, yet easy-to-use HTML editors for the Mac.
Now, there are some excellent inexpensive programs, but I found one that’s free, and that does (or purports to do) all the things I want to have in my website. There’s something in me that just won’t let me shell out 80 buck US for something when I can almost the same thing for free. The downside is that I had to start all over again to rebuild the site.
Anyway, the revamped site is close to being done, and when it is, this blog will look very different.

This is a blog about writing, not about being a cheapskate

Clio by Pierre Mignard.
Source: Wikipedia
Thank you, muse of writing. 
The writing. Well, last week, I pushed the website and the book formatting aside for a while to return to writing. I know that I said in June that I would have the sequel to Army of Worn Soles out by December, and we all know that’s not going to happen.
I have had this nagging feeling that comes from knowing that I have been putting off finishing the story of Maurice Bury, my late father-in-law, and his experiences in the Second World War. Now, I feel so much better that I have started to make progress again.
This is a very early draft, but here’s an opening:

Ukraine, January 1942Wind blew the snow smooth, polishing surface of the lake to a dull sheen under the full moon, and pushing drifts higher than a man along a rough fence that shielded the railway. Beyond the rails, more snow weighed down the boughs of close-growing fir trees and covered their trunks more than six feet high.

The moonlight made steam sparkle as a train emerged from the forest to puff and groan slowly along the edge of the frozen lake. The engineer squinted through the small forward window, which gave only an obstructed view. Periodically, he would lean out the side window to peer at the track ahead, but he could only bear the frigid air, the wind from the train’s forward motion, and the smoke and cinders from the engine, for less than a minute before he had to come back inside.

He kept the train’s speed low and one hand on the brake lever, despite the commands of the Wehrmachtofficers in the cars behind him. He knew the risks of going too fast in this country. Besides snowdrifts over the tracks that could derail the train despite the plows welded onto the front of the engine, the men he knew hid under the dark boughs posed worse threats.

Army of Worn Soleschronicled Maurice’s drafting into the Red Army, his service as an officer as the army retreated across Ukraine and his capture along with half a million other men, his imprisonment and his escape along with the men in his command from the POW camp. The second story is about his experiences after that:
  • fighting in the underground resistance against Nazi Germany
  • being re-drafted by the Red Army
  • fighting across the Baltic states and then eastern Germany, up to Berlin in May, 1945
  • and finally, his narrow escape from the Red Army and Stalin’s NKVD to return home to Canada, where he was born.
I think I’ve got it all mapped out now, and about 80 percent of it is written. But I am having one problem, dear readers: the title. So I’m turning to you. In the Comments section below, tell me which of the following possible titles you think is the most grabbing:
  • Walking Out of War
  • Walking Away from War
  • Slipping Through Stalin’s Net
  • The Four-Sided War
  • Worn Soles Home
I’m looking forward to your comments!