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helenliz

helenliz

The First Casualty

The First Casualty - Ben Elton This is a surprising subject and quality of book from Ben Elton. I've not read any of his writings, and this wasn't what I expected from his public persona. Douglas Kingsley is a detective in Scotland yard during WW1. He's also currently in court, on the charge of refusing to join the army to fight under conscription. His objections aren't moral or of cowardice, they are intellectual. He comes across badly, as an intellectual snob (but I can sympathise with that one) and doesn't gain much in the way of popular sympathy. His wife leaves him in shame and he faces the wrath of the court. That doesn't go down well and he is duly sent to prison, where it becomes a case of which set of old enemies is going to have the pleasure of doing him in...At this point the scene shifts and we meet Viscount Abercrombie, who's a lieutenant in the army about to head back to France. He's also a renown poet of patriotic and highly acclaimed, sentimental tosh including something called "Forever England". He also happens to be a bent as a nine bob note. Abercrombie enjoys a last night in London, enjoying the pleasures on offer before heading to his regiment on the front near Ypres. He's not exactly full of bonhomie, but he is welcomed by his fellow officers. In the course of his duty, he happens to put on charge a Private Hoskins, who is a Bolshevic and disobeys a direct order during a break from the front. After going over the top, these two end up in rooms next to each other at a hospital for nervous cases and it is during his stay here that Abercrombie becomes the corpse. Douglas is sent to investigate, as there are political implications to this death which wasn't (as posted in the papers) "in the line of duty". There's a lot of build up to this, it's about half way through before the murder is committed, but all that background works for the story. The characters are clearly drawn and Kingsley's struggles to reconcile himself with what he sees and experiences is well represented. There is the question of why should one murder be investigated in the middle of a war in which thousands are dying, but government sanctioned murder is different from the personal, private, murder that takes place here. You can't help but sympathise with Kingsley and his views, especially when viewed at this remove, he certainly makes a lot of sense. but war and sense don't often go hand in hand, and you can see how much he was out of step with his times. A very good read.