Sunday, 20 April 2008

The First Casualty

The First Casualty by Ben Elton

I just finished reading this book recently. It is one of my husbands books, and one of the only ones of his I have even thought of reading! We have very different tastes in books - he likes The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. And Ben Elton. So I had it in the back of my mind for a while to read it, and it fit all the "breastfeeding reading" criteria I mentioned in a previous post.

We know Ben Elton quite well from his work on TV, writing for various series such as Blackadder, so he is known for his comedic abilities. I was interested to see how he would handle a book centered on World War I. Apart from Blackadder, there isn't much comedy in that! The story involves a senior police detective who is gaoled as a conscientious objector to the war. Through the trial is his vilified, and brings shame onto his family. Meanwhile in France, a well known British officer is shot while in a military hospital for treating victims of shellshock. It is put out that he is killed in action, but those in the know refute that and claim it is murder, and blame is placed in the hands of a fellow patient. So, our gaoled police detective is sent to France to investigate - via a false death in prison. So this man, who was dead set against the war, finds himself at the Front, and in the process of his investigations, taking part in raids and trench battles. As he ironically observes, he was against the unnecessary killing of war, and in the process of his investigation, to save the life of the man facing court martial for a murder he proves he did not commit, he murders a number of Germans.

Some of the dialogue spoke through with almost a sound of Ben Elton, particularly the toffee-nosed officer type. I could just hear the voices of Hugh Laurie et al in Blackadder - what what!! I also came away interested in shellshock. WWI was the first time such an entity was diagnosed, and it was still controverisal in military circles. Victims could be struck dumb, have violent shaking episodes, and be in such as stupor as to be unable to care for themselves. BUt the military view was to treat any phyiscal wounds and get the men back to the fighting as soon as possible. Not to mention those that might have ran from fear at the thought of battle, only to face being shot by a superior officer for insubordination. Not the British military at its best.

A number of interesting characters are included; there is a suffragette nurse, a couple of homosexual military men, and a real scoundrel of an officer with an abysmal attitude about women.

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