This is the fourth entry in Robinson's RFC Quartet (although it is set after the formation of the RAF). The story is set in Russia in 1919 during the ill-fated British 'Intervention', an attempt to overthrow the Bolshevik government which evolved out of an earlier attempt to keep Russia in the war against Germany. The novel follows the exploits of a fictional RAF squadron and its volunteer crewmen (although follows the general outline of genuine events).
As with the other entries in this series death is ever-present, and takes characters at random - important characters go unexpectedly, just as in real warfare. War isn't neat and neither is Robinson's story. The main plot is the war itself, with individual characters and their fates set against that backdrop.
Robinson has a good feel for the chaotic nature of the Russian Civil War and the half-hearted nature of the British 'Intervention' in the south. The action takes place during General Denikin's attempt to capture Moscow, and ends with his retreat back to the Black Sea and the evacuation of the surviving members of the squadron. The limited RAF support and a brief encounter with British artillery don't play a major part in the fighting, which followed the routes of the long rail lines across the steppe, crossing the territory of various bandit groups, bloodthirsty anarchists and obscure and ghastly (but real) Russian religious cults.
This is a fitting end to this fine series of novels, tracing the fate of the handful of survivors of the RFC and early RAF who chose to volunteer to fight in Russia, the last major RAF commitment before the quiet years of colonial policing after the First World War.
Author: Derek Robinson