Flanders, June 1917: a British officer and celebrated poet, is shot dead, killed not by German fire, but while recuperating from shell shock well behind the lines. A young English soldier is arrested and, although he protests his innocence, charged with his murder.
Douglas Kingsley is a conscientious objector, previously a detective with the London police, now imprisoned for his beliefs. He is released and sent to France in order to secure a conviction. Forced to conduct his investigations amidst the hell of The Third Battle of Ypres, Kingsley soon discovers that both the evidence and the witnesses he needs are quite literally disappearing into the mud that surrounds him.Ben Elton's tenth novel is a gut-wrenching historical drama which explores some fundamental questions. What is murder? What is justice in the face of unimaginable daily slaughter? And where is the honour in saving a man from the gallows if he is only to be returned to die in a suicidal battle?
As the gap between legally-sanctioned and illegal murder becomes ever more blurred, Kingsley quickly learns that the first casualty when war comes is truth.
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Not Elton's best
'The First Casualty' is a whodunnit which is really an excuse to take the reader into the trenches of WW1 and 'over the top' (twice). The plot has lots of holes - it's easy to guess the murderer because there are no other candidates, really. And why would the government use the hero for this secret assignment, when he is just about the most loathed and recognisable conscientious objector in Britain at the time? Surely it had other detectives? And surely he would have understood long before what awaited him in prison, as a hated policeman? No, the real purpose is to describe trench warfare, where the hero, despite his 'logical' objection to the war, turns into a killing machine in short order. In general, I found it difficult to see what we are supposed to take away from the novel. Not one of Elton's best, but as usual a page-turner.
If by 'this genre' you mean books about WW1 the answer is no, although I think that event has had enough exposure for the time being.
Excellent. At first I thought his voice a bit monotone, but actually he proved he could do a whole range of feeling and accents.
Elton has an odd idea of what (most) suffragettes stood for. It was 'votes for women, chastity for men' in most cases. Extreme sexual promiscuity (of the kind his heroine displays, with her much re-used condom) wasn't on the agenda.
- Peter Morton
- Adi Gilo