Published By: Harvill Secker
Released On: 13/01/2022
THE GUNS ARE SILENT. THE DEAD ARE NOT.
1919. On the desolate battlefields of northern France, the guns of the Great War are silent. Special battalions now face the dangerous task of gathering up the dead for mass burial.
Captain Mackenzie, a survivor of the war, cannot yet bring himself to go home. First he must see that his fallen comrades are recovered and laid to rest. His task is upended when a gruesome discovery is made beneath the ruins of a German strongpoint.
Amy Vanneck’s fiancé is one soldier lost amongst many, but she cannot accept that his body may never be found. She heads to France, determined to discover what became of the man she loved.
It soon becomes clear that what Mackenzie has uncovered is a war crime of inhuman savagery. As the dark truth leaches out, both he and Amy are drawn into the hunt for a psychopath, one for whom the atrocity at Two Storm Wood is not an end, but a beginning.
I hadn’t heard of this book prior to seeing it featured on ‘Between The Covers’. I have my issues with that programme as I’m a bit sceptical that every guest seems to love every book, and so didn’t expect there to be a book I’d want to buy, but I ordered this straight after. And now I can understand why every guest loved it.
I enjoyed the various viewpoints, mainly those of two time periods – one on the midst of war and one picking up the pieces afterwards. It allowed us to get a clearer human perspective of the famous battles.
I loved that this focussed on World War One. There are many, many fictional books about the Second World War which are as sad and as beautiful, and I have read some real belters, and I am in no way shrugging off the important of those books. But I don’t think I have ever read a book set in the first war. It’s almost like there’s this belief that nothing noteworthy happened in that war, which is obviously wrong.
But I found it such a clever choice of topic. Books tend to focus on the fighting itself and how it affects the men and the families back home, but we don’t seem to read about the immediate aftereffects. I don’t know much of this book is true or at least based on something true, but I commend Philip Gray’s research here, it is second to none; even if it’s a complete work of fiction, he clearly knows enough to bring it to life. The fact he’s chosen to focus on the men forced to clear the battlefields of bodies….it’s not something I’d even considered before, which is shocking. It must have been such a traumatic thing to do, but Philip has captured it so beautifully, so sensitively.
The narrative never lets up. It’s not the kind of book you can easily put down at the end of the chapter and come back to in the morning. If you’re going to read this, you need to put aside a few hours uninterrupted because, if you’re anything like me, you will not be able to take your eyes off of it. It’s tense and fast paced, joyful and upsetting, happy and devastating, interesting and entertaining.
It’s also not just a straight war book. How do I put this without spoiling it….there are some mysteries, some red herrings, some tantalising secrets that will keep you hooked and wanting more. For me, it was a very claustrophobic story, you don’t feel relaxed until you reach the end, you get this constant idea that someone’s watching you, that you’re being suffocated.
It is beautiful. Traumatic and gruesome and heartbreaking, but beautifully written and I plan to lend it to anyone and everyone.