The cost of war

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of fiction and mystery titles that take place after World War I and II. The stories I’ve been enjoying all share a common theme; the return to ‘normal’ life after war. Some of the following titles look at the lives of former soldiers, others look at the wives and children of these men. As Remembrance Day approaches, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of these wonderful books.

Charles Todd, pen name for an American mother-son team, writes a wonderful post-World War I mystery series featuring shell-shocked Ian Rutledge, an upper-class Scotland Yard detective whose envious superior keeps trying to get rid of him. The vividly described settings around Britain, interesting secondary characters, and slowly-revealed solutions enhance the fascinating character of Rutledge, whose mind is tormented by the voice of Hamish, a sergeant he was forced to execute during the war. There are currently 13 titles in the series, and you can start your reading with the first book, A Test of Wills. The 14th title, The Confession, is due out in early 2012.

Blow On a Dead Man’s Embers, by Welsh author Mari Strachan, is another moving title that takes place just after WWI. Non and Davey Davies are struggling to live their lives in the aftermath of the war. Davey is so changed by his experiences that Non hardly recognises the man she married a year before the War. What captivated me the most in this book, that I read in one go last Tuesday night, is how Ms Strachan explores the way ordinary people dealt with the aftermath of a terrible war that left families without sons, husbands, brothers. 

The Return of Captain John Emmett, by Elizabeth Speller, is another post-WWI title, taking place in 1920. Following the death of his wife and baby and his experiences on the Western Front, Laurence Bartram has become something of a recluse. Yet death and the aftermath of the conflict continue to cast a pall over peacetime England, and when a young woman he once knew persuades him to look into events that apparently led her brother, John Emmett, to kill himself, Laurence is forced to revisit the darkest parts of the war. As Laurence unravels the connections between Captain Emmett’s suicide, a group of war poets, a bitter regimental feud and a hidden love affair, more disquieting deaths are exposed. Even at the moment Laurence begins to live again, it dawns on him that nothing is as it seems, and that even those closest to him have their secrets.

Amanda Hodgkinson examines life after WWII in 22 Britannia Road. In Ipswich, Janusz is getting ready for the arrival of the wife and son he hasn’t seen in six years. After fleeing Poland and the war that left him a deserter, he has found his family a house. However, his wife Silvana and son Aurek have been living wild in the forests for years. Will they be able to to make a real home again?

In The Promise of Rain by Donna Milner, we meet Ethie Coulter, born after her father Howard returned from the war in 1945. She never knew him as he was before, an open, loving man and a devoted husband. When his wife dies in bizarre circumstances, Howard must take on the burden of looking after eleven-year-old Ethie and her two older brothers. Why, Ethie wonders, is he so silent and withdrawn? Howard Coulter was one of two thousand Canadian soldiers sent to the Far East a month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Surviving the fierce battle for Hong Kong, he became a POW, moving from camp to notorious camp, watching his friends die of disease, starvation and worse. Yet Howard carries more than the physical and mental scars inflicted by his captors. Something happened in Hong Kong, a secret that he has carried for nearly two decades. Ethie, inquisitive and fearless, will be the one to work her way towards the truth and help her father come to terms with the past.

- Barbara

One response to “The cost of war

  1. I recommend “Death Spiral” by James Nichol as an excellent mystery novel whose protagonist is a disabled ex-fighter pilot who has to solve a series of unexplained murders in his Ontario hometown while coming to terms with his war and try to build a life from there.

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