In September 1943, seventeen commandos of Z Special Force, led by Lieutenant Commander Ivan Lyon, attacked and sank with limpet mines seven ships in the Singapore harbour. A year later, in October 1944, when the Pacific War had only months to run, a repeat performance failed and all those involved were either killed in action or executed by the Japanese. Though these events provide the basis for Tom Keneally’s latest novel, The Widow and Her Hero, he insists that it is ‘not meant to be a roman-à-clef of those times and characters’. Rather, he is concerned with the motives and the ‘inner souls’ of the people whom he has invented.
They are set against Keneally’s favourite fictional background: the battlefields and homefronts of World War II, the conflict that shadowed his childhood. This was the temporal setting of his second novel, The Fear (1965), of Season in Purgatory (1976) and An Angel in Australia (2002) among others. And that is not to count the two novels that Keneally published pseudonymously, as ‘William Coyle’. In this latest work he investigates, as he has before, how domestic society is transformed by its accommodations to war. He depicts the lives of anxious wives and of those who became war widows (‘a whole sub-class of women in the world, invisible except to each other’), of bureaucrats, of servicemen waiting their next call to duty.