Tag: World War I

The Black Ascot Book Review

Book Cover showing a race horse

The Black Ascot

The Black Ascot by Charles Todd is an historical murder mystery. The book takes its’ title from the 1910 Ascot races. Because of the death of King Edward VII, all attendees at the Ascot races wore black. The murder takes place following a race day.

The accused, Alan Barrington, disappears after the inquest and before the case goes to trial. The majority of the book takes place 1921. This allows the author to incorporate bits and pieces of history from The Great War.

Scotland Yard

In 1921, Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge receives a tip. Alan Barrington has been spotted back in England. Rutledge convinces his superior to allow the old murder case to be reviewed. Even though Rutledge was not involved in the original Black Ascot murder investigation, he wants to bring Barrington to trial.

Shell Shock

Inspector Ian Rutledge begins the review by getting to know the victims as well as the accused. His investigation involves interviewing past Inspectors and witnesses. Many of these individuals were mentally and/or physically affected by The Great War.

Rutledge also suffers from shell shock. During World War I, Rutledge loses a close colleague. But the ghost of Hamish “talks” to Rutledge throughout the book. When the issue of the inspector’s shell shock takes a pivotal turn midway through the book, so does the case.

Charles Todd

Charles Todd and his mother Caroline team together to write both the Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series. Even though the list of published works is long, this was my first time reading a Charles Todd book. It will not be my last.

I love the combination of historical events and fictional murder mystery. Even though the Ascot races did not figure prominently in the book, naming the novel after the 1910 races was appropriate. A true blackguard caused the motor car crash taking the life of one and severely injuring another.

The expert writing not only kept the reader turning the pages, but also created a stand-alone book. I did not feel as if I were missing something by not reading previous titles featuring Inspector Rutledge. The intrigue of the plot combined with the well-developed characters made this one of the best reads of the 2019 year. I would not be surprised to find it on my end of the year list of favorites. (Click here for the 2018 list.)

The Black Ascot is highly recommended. Buy or borrow a copy today.

The Verdun Affair Book Review

The Verdun Affair

Nick Dybek’s The Verdun Affair reminds me of the books assigned in my high school English classes. Full of deep meaning, filled with ambiguity. Fodder for discussion. Passages to quote. Books such as Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Only time will tell if Dybek will reach such a point. But sentences such as “He couldn’t have known that a lifetime is a sad thing, that, in the end, it is a bridge between two worlds that don’t believe in one another” which ends Chapter 3, have the depth for quotation. And discussion.

I struggled reading The Verdun Affair much as I struggled to read the above mentioned classics. The plot was fairly simple, the characters straightforward. But the presentation is one of shifting back and forth between the years.

The story is split between 1950 and the post World War I years. Tom, an American boy caught in France during the war tells the narrative. He is but one of many orphaned by war. He comes of age under the care of French priests and remains in Europe following the war.

The aftermath of The Great War led to many families, parents and wives, searching for those missing or lost. Tom’s task is to recover bones from the battlefields of Verdun while the priests tend to the many searching for lost loved ones.

The White Lie

The story truly unfolds from there. In the absence of clergy, Tom is tasked with consoling a fellow American, Sarah Hagen, searching for her husband. In an attempt towards compassion, he tells a lie. Some would classify it as a White Lie. He claims to have met her husband. This gives her hope. But it will haunt him.

Sarah continues searching. She travels to Italy in hopes that an amnesic is her missing husband. Smitten, Tom finds a way to follow. Italy introduces other key characters. One of whom, Paul, also has a presence in both past and present tales. He, too is searching for someone and thinks the amnesic is that person.

Purpose

The Verdun Affair ponders much. Truth, revenge, conflict and purpose are all posited for the reader to reflect upon. Dybek shows how war affects those involved directly as well as indirectly. Actions have consequences. This novel creates many questions for the reader. When does truth matter? How does one let go of a loved one? Is revenge always needed? How do actions today steer one’s life tomorrow?

I believe this book offers much to the reader looking for reflection. It is not an easy read, but life is not easy. The Verdun Affair is the type of literary work students should be assigned. But, it also holds value for those of us on the other side of the bridge.