From 7 September 1940, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for fifty-seven consecutive nights. More than forty thousand civilians were killed and a million homes damaged or destroyed. Other British cities – especially those with ports – were also subject to air raids, but London bore the brunt of the German onslaught. The best Blitz fiction is arguably Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear, published in 1943, but Nigel Balchin (1908–70) got there first a year earlier with an outstanding novel, now reissued by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. In his first-rate biography of Balchin, His Own Executioner, Derek Collett gently reminds us that the name was pronounced ‘Bol-chin’ – evidence that this once hugely popular writer, one of the best novelists of his generation, is in danger of being forgotten.
Darkness Falls from the Air opens in the early days of the Second World War. Bill Sarratt, seconded from a well-paid job in industry, fetches up in an unidentified government ministry that acts, we learn in a sardonic aside, as Whitehall’s wastepaper bin. A confident and competent man, he applies