Book review: Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson

It’s 1942 and amidst the violence and chaos of a terrifying warfront on the vast landscape of North Africa, two young people are fighting their own personal battles.

One is a woman who has joined ENSA to sing for the troops... the other is an RAF pilot facing the demons that haunt him after he was badly burned when his Spitfire crashed.

Their story, and the story of a war that shattered lives and devastated countries, forms the exciting and evocative backdrop to an extraordinary novel of love and adventure from former journalist Julia Gregson, author of the bestselling East of the Sun.

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Exotic and alluring, steeped in the atmosphere of combat and the garish glamour of Cairo and Alexandria, Jasmine Nights is a captivating and beautifully imagined thriller played out in a panoramic theatre of war.

The romance at its heart is a side show to a tangibly real, decadent, dangerous world of soldiers, spies, diplomats and double agents where a wrong word or a false move can mean the difference between life and death.

Saba Tarcan is half Welsh and half Turkish and it is not only her dark, sultry beauty that is striking. She also has a singing voice that gets her noticed, particularly by Dom Benson, a young pilot recovering in a London hospital from burns to his hands and face.

Still haunted by the death of members of his crew when his Spitfire crashed in Suffolk, a chance meeting with Saba at the hospital helps to assuage the dark guilt.

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‘Half imp, half angel,’ her voice and joie de vivre represent youth, spirit and hope for the future.

What he doesn’t know is that headstrong Saba is at war with her parents who adamantly oppose her dream of joining the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) and performing for the troops in Europe.

When Saba defies her parents and auditions for ENSA, Dom turns up and their romance blossoms but Rommel is heading for Egypt and Saba is dispatched to North Africa to entertain the troops.

Saba’s journey unexpectedly takes her from the faded glories of Cairo to the heat and opulence of Istanbul because it’s not just her voice that is wanted now. Her looks and background make her perfectly placed for some dangerous espionage.

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Meanwhile, Dom knows that flying again is the only way to conquer his demons and manages to get posted to the Desert Air Force in the hope of meeting up again with Saba.

But when they are eventually reunited, love does not take the course Dom had originally planned...

Jasmine Nights is an engrossing and moving love story which powerfully captures a sense of time and place as well as providing a fascinating slant on an extraordinary and epic episode of the Second World War.

Saba is a captivating leading lady, an innocent abroad who comes of age in a perilous and pulsating baptism of fire. Her fortunes are inextricably linked to the dashing but damaged Dom, a character of more depth and complexity than she could ever have imagined.

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Gregson surrounds them with heroes and villains, from the clandestine double dealers to the eclectic cast of ENSA entertainers, and all around them is a world in turmoil, where values are changing and where there is a lot more at stake than just the love between two young people.

Prepare to be swept away...

(Orion, paperback, £7.99)

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