Review by Robyn Colclough.
Set in 1940 in the Northern town of South Shields, Blitz PAMs is an astonishing story which tracks the PAMs (Police Auxiliary Messengers) as Britain are fighting amid the chaos of World War II. With their retreat from Dunkirk as Italy enter the War, and the RAF withstanding the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, there is much to fight for as the conflict continues. But with the German Blitzkrieg commencing as the Luftwaffe realise they can’t take on the fighting power of the RAF, the first of many bombing raids hits South Shields. This prompts the calling of the PAMs to deliver important messages on their bikes during a time of disaster and confusion.
The story follows a young Muslim boy, born and raised in South Shields, who wants to fight for his country in any way he can. Mohammed, also known as Mossie, is a grocery delivery boy and a true young Northern lad. His witty Geordie slang and humour is the heart of the story, pacing the narrative in a fast and exciting manner. It is this tone which Orton uses effectively to contrast the cruel reality of the war. Indeed, the protagonist is a vivid reflection of the realisms of South Shields life in a time of turmoil; his strength of character and innocence being an oxymoron to the German Blitzkrieg.
The setting of South Shields is extremely significant in this novel. There is clear research and historical accuracy present within the story, with real life photographs of the damages of the raids being integrated into the chapters. Coupled with the strong community feeling of Northern pride, it makes the story a heartfelt read. I praise Orton for this choice because it provides a new angle on a topic covered extensively; the issues faced by the South Shields home front as a realistic representation of life during the war. For example, Mossie’s family use furniture to quickly huddle under when a raid begins near the beginning of the story, with Mossie being dragged out of bed in a sleep-deprived and moody state. Orton effectively echoes the point of view of a young Northern lad whilst highlighting the brutality of the war.
One of my main criticisms while reading the novel was the lack of transferability to readers who are not from the North. The heavy Geordie dialogue and slang is key to the telling of the story, and so I question its readability to a Southern audience, especially since I found I had to reread some sentences. However, this is a small critique on a well-crafted story, and I understand Orton’s choice to choose this writing style. If anything, it could be said to be an effective addition to the wonderful tapestry of South Shields that is painted throughout the story.
Overall, I really enjoyed Blitz PAMs and the story of Mossie and his ‘marras’. It was funny, exciting and a brilliant telling of the struggles young people faced throughout World War II. I especially enjoyed the integration of relatable content for people of the North East to recognise when reading, such as the choice of places and settings, such as the Winter Gardens, throughout the story. Therefore I would highly recommend, especially to local readers.