A quick investigation confirmed that this was the source material of the Masterpiece Theater series, so I bought it and, at some point during the intervening years, read it. I sometimes tell people that Piece of Cake is my favorite book, but it's been so long since I read the whole thing that I should probably stop saying that, just in case a subsequent re-reading of the novel should make me out a liar. But it is a great book. It tells the story of an RAF fighter squadron, called Hornet Squadron, from September 1939, up to the Battle of Britain in September 1940. Robinson gets across what it must have been like to be a young man at the beginning of World War II, getting ready to take up one of the most insane and dangerous jobs in any military at that time, and he does so with a great deal of sardonic wit and a complete lack of dishonest sentiment.
Without even opening the book, I can still rattle off the names of the main characters (of which there are quite a few): Pip Patterson, Mother Cox, Moggy Cattermole, Flash Gordon, Moke Miller, Rex, Kellaway, Baggy Bletchley, Stickwell, Fanny Barton, Christopher Hart III (known as CH3)...I also remember, to a man, whether or not they make it out of the novel alive, and, if not, how they died. More than any other novel I know, Piece of Cake kept me completely off-balance regarding my confidence in the fate, and life expectancy, of the characters. Anybody could be killed at any time. No one was ever safe. In this sense, Piece of Cake feels like the most realistic war novel I've ever read. And it's still a very funny book, from the first page to the last.
I've since read many of Robinson's other novels. He certainly does seem to favor war novels about fighter (or bomber) squadrons bearing ironically frivolous titles (see also A Good Clean Fight and Damned Good Show), and he also really likes to write about Hornet Squadron -- apart from Piece of Cake, this squadron also appears in the aforementioned A Good Clean Fight, and in his World War I novels War Story and Hornet's Sting (and you can find Hornet's prototype in Robinson's Booker Prize-nominated Goshawk Squadron). I've read all of these, except Hornet's Sting, and I like them all, but I'll be honest and say to anyone interested in Robinson that there is a sameness to these novels that might wear on you, so if you wanted to pick just one, then go with Piece of Cake. With that novel, he was working at the height of his powers: it's his epic, and his masterwork.
Robinson does write other kinds of books. He's written a few spy novels, an American Civil War novel (Kentucky Blues), and many non-fiction books about both war and rugby. He's still writing, but his kind of fiction is apparently, and unfortunately, out of style, because he's had to self-publish his newest novel, Hullo Russia, Goodbye England, about Cold War spy-plane pilots. This guy has been nominated for a Booker, he's been adapted by Masterpiece Theater, and now he has to self-publish. I'm disgusted, but unsurprised. But oh well. I'd say that I hope Robinson isn't bitter about this turn of events, but having read a number of his novels, I think the odds are that he probably is, which is fine, because he has every right to be. After all, he's the guy who wrote Piece of Cake. Read that book, all of you. It's another great novel in danger of being forgotten.