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Literature / Henderson's Boys

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A British spy series set in World War II. Henderson's Boys concerns the activities of the last active British agent in Nazi-occupied France, and the children he adopts/recruits to assist him. It's sold as a prequel to the author's bestselling Cherub Series, but has a significantly darker tone and a very different setting. Main characters include Charles Henderson, an adult British spy, Marc Kilgour, a young French orphan, Paul and Rosie Clarke, who are British kids orphaned in the first book, and PT Bivott, a young French American thief that fled American for France, only to arrive in time for World War II. Other agents are added in Secret Army, including Luc, Joel, Troy, Sam and Yves.

The books try to keep things fairly realistic, and is very much in the Stale Beer category of Spy Fiction. There are no over the top supervillains that can only be defeated by bullet dodging tux wearing super spies. The series makes it clear that one mistake, one stray bullet, or one unlucky event could doom the entire group.

The series consists of:

  1. The Escape
  2. Eagle Day
  3. Secret Army
  4. Grey Wolves
  5. The Prisoner
  6. One Shot Kill
  7. Scorched Earth

This series provides examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: Including young children. Scorched Earth contains Rosie.
  • Attempted Rape: Dumont tries to rape Rosie in Eagle Day, but she fights him off.
    • Happens on two occasions in Grey Wolves, first when Marc and Henderson come across a Nazi officer trying to force himself on a French woman, and then again when Marc is molested and implied almost raped by a convicted sex murderer while imprisoned for black market trading. On both occasions, either Marc or Henderson knocks the would-be rapist out and kills them by force feeding them a cyanide pill.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Paul and Rosie.
  • The Bully: Luc, whose favourite target is Paul.
  • Bully Hunter: Several of the students retaliate against Luc's bullying.
  • Children Forced to Kill: First Marc Kilgour and latter many of the other agents kill Germans as part of their operations.
  • Child Soldiers: Because it is wartime, the role of the ERU-B is even more soldier-like than their CHERUB successors.
  • Cloak and Dagger: ERU-B is very much in the Cloak and Dagger tradition of British spy fiction and the Real Life World War II era British Special Operations Executive and Commandos.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Somewhat inverted. Rosie, described on the official website as "The one who isn't a boy," is actually a tough, bossy, capable character who contributes to the team. However, the gender roles of the 1940's means that many characters persist in viewing her as The Smurfette.
  • A Death in the Limelight: Rosie gets more moments in the penultimate book, One Shot Kill, supposedly setting up a target on her back. However, it's Subverted when she lives throughout the hole book. But then, its Double Subverted when one finds out that it was foreshadowing her death in Scorched Earth, where she is only there for two chapters in total.
  • Death from Above: Both German and British bombing raids play an important part of the stories.
  • Death of a Child: Hugo, a young child, is accidentally shot and killed by a Nazi agent at the climax of The Escape.
    • Rosie also dies at the beginning of Scorched Earth, shot by a Milice officer.
  • Dirty Communists: While not all of the communists in the series are horrible people, the communist resistance are much more brutal than the normal resistance.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Mr. Takada, a Japanese national who is training the children as an alternative to being in a prisoner of war camp.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Mr. Takada is teaching martial arts to ERU-B trainees.
  • Free-Range Children: Rosie and Paul spend some time as free range children in The Escape. PT Bivott also spends times a free range child. The training exercise in Secret Army involves the children performing a simulated mission that involves traveling through England without adult supervision or help.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: ERU and ERU-B, the predecessor to CHERUB
  • Harmful to Minors: Children are fully exposed to the horrors of war and Nazi occupation. One shot kill contains a pretty brutal description of a 14 year old girl getting tortured nearly to death and being sent for execution before being rescued.
  • Historical Fiction: The series is set during World War II. So far, all the books have taken place on the Western Front of the European Theater.
  • Home Base: ERU-B has a training center established by the beginning of Secret Army.
  • The Infiltration: The mission in Eagle Day and no doubt future missions.
  • Just a Kid: The premise of ERU-B is that Those Wacky Nazis will underestimate young agents because they are that.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty:
    • Mr. Tomas, the abusive orphanage director, isn't really punished in The Escape beyond one of the nuns blackmailing him and Marc robbing his house. It's later revealed in The Prisoner that he's now a Nazi collaborator and the head of the Bordeaux Requisition Authority in charge of confiscating crops for the Nazis. Due to his position, Marc never has the chance to get revenge on him here either, but later returns in One-Shot Kill and finds out that he's going to requisition his girlfriend Jae's farm for the Nazis, prompting him to break into Tomas's house, beat him to a pulp, force-feed him a cyanide pill and pour boiling water over him to Make It Look Like an Accident.
    • Similarly, Lanier, Marc's arch-nemesis at the orphanage, isn't defeated after ruining Marc's reputation in The Escape, but returns in The Prisoner, when it's revealed that he too now works for the Nazis and Marc challenges him to a fight in front of all the other kids from the orphanage and easily defeats him and punches him out.
    • Luc is pretty much a secondary Villain Protagonist who regularly bullies the other kids and takes sadistic joy in their suffering, kills Antoine in Grey Wolves despite the fact that he's on their side because he's dead weight and says the Germans got him (admittedly, he did kind of have it coming) and commits a war crime in the last book when he executes a surrendering soldier because they don't have anywhere to hold him. He isn't punished in any of the stories, but the Where Are They Now epilogue reveals that his life pretty much went downhill after the war ended and he was expelled from school after assaulting a teacher, spent a while in prison for being a member of an extortion racket and ended up dying in a car crash while trying to escape from the police after murdering his girlfriend.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Well, not all, but several are, especially Luc.
  • Les Collaborateurs:
    • Mannstein in the first book refuses to sell his plans to the Allies and negotiates their sale to the Nazis. An overheard conversation between two SS officers reveals that, as an ethnic Jew, he would have been sent to the concentration camps after the deal was closed, although Henderson assassinates him before this can happen.
    • By the time of Secret Army, both Mr. Tomas and Lanier have joined the Nazi requisition authority.
    • Several appear in Scorched Earth: the closest thing the book has to a Big Bad, Captain Robert, is a member of the Milice, a police force composed of French collaborators. Two others in particular stand out:
      • Firstly, Gaspard, the leader of the Bordeaux resistance, collaborates with the Nazis and helps repress any actual resistance attempts in the hope of being made mayor. Henderson is not amused, and carries out a bombing that kills several Nazis and frames Gaspard. The Nazis fall for it and hang him.
      • And later on, Henderson captures a Polish collaborator and interrogates him. The collaborator tells him what he wants to know, and Henderson snaps his neck, reasoning that traitors don't deserve to live.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: After Marc kills Mr. Tomas in One Shot Kill, he douses hot water from a saucepan onto him to make it look like that he slipped and accidentally grabbed the saucepan, leading to his demise.
  • Parental Abandonment: All of the children in ERU-B are either orphans or otherwise separated from their parents.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Why Marc isn't executed for murdering Carlos in Grey Wolves.
  • School Uniforms are the New Black
  • Something Only They Would Say: Not exactly, but in Grey Wolves an RAF pilot tries to find out if Charles Henderson is really English by asking him things only an Englishman would know. It doesn't work, because their lack of a common social class meant that their cultural frames of reference were too different.
  • Spy Fiction: Charles Henderson is a British spy and begins training children to act as spies.
  • The Spymaster: Charles Henderson and his superiors.
  • Spy School: ERU-B trains children to be spies and saboteurs. The term "spy school" is used in Grey Wolves.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: It is the middle of a war after all...
  • Teen Super Spy: The entire point of ERU-B is to use teens and even preteens as spies. Nevertheless, this is very much a Stale Beer version of the teen spy rather than something along the lines of Alex Rider or the Spy Kids movies.
  • There Are No Therapists: While CHERUB averts this by providing mental health services to their young agents, World War II era Britain does not have such things high on their priority list.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Including, of course, SS officers
  • Training from Hell: The training that ERU-B agents undergo.
  • Where Are They Now: Scorched Earth ends with this. However, as the series takes place during World War II, Marc is the only lead character not to have died between 1945 and the book being written.