Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Lost Man Cover“He had started to remove his clothes as logic had deserted him, and his skin was cracked. Whatever had been going through Cameron’s mind when he was alive, he didn’t look peaceful in death.”

Two brothers meet at the remote border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of the outback. In an isolated part of Australia, they are each other’s nearest neighbour, their homes hours apart.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old that no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish.

Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he choose to walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Having read and greatly enjoyed Jane Harper’s two previous novels, The Dry and Force of Nature, I jumped at the chance to be part of the blog tour for her third book, The Lost Man!

Whilst still set amidst the sun-bleached landscapes of Australia, The Lost Man is slightly different from her previous two books in that it doesn’t feature protagonist Aaron Falk (although there is a very cleverly hidden reference to him in the book for keen-eyed readers to spot!). Whilst you certainly didn’t need to have read The Dry to appreciate Force of Nature, this makes The Lost Man a complete standalone and has given Harper scope to experiment with a slightly darker tone to produce, in my humble opinion, her best book yet.

The Lost Man centres on the Bright family, cattle farmers in the remote Australian outback. Nathan, eldest of the Bright brothers and ostracised from both his family and his community as a result of a terrible decision made years before, is reluctantly pulled from his isolated existence when his brother, Cameron, is found dead. Dying of heat exhaustion and exposure in the middle of the Australian summer is not in itself surprising – this is a landscape that kills the unwary without mercy.  But when Cameron’s car is found several kilometres away from his body, filled with plenty of water and several days worth of supplies, Nathan begins to question why his brother would have walked into the wilderness – and whether he had help.

Thus begins a gradual unravelling of family secrets, spiralling into the past and causing troubled memories to resurface that send ripples through Nathan’s remote outback community.

I really took to Nathan as a narrator. His gruff, awkward outward demeanour belies a contemplative and considerate nature and, even when the awful truth of his past mistakes are revealed, you can’t help but empathise with him. One of the main strengths of the book is the gradual revealing and development of Nathan’s character, as he begins to step out from the shadows of his past and look towards future possibilities. As Nathan begins to unravel the truth behind Cameron’s death, he has to explore long-neglected relationships and decide who he can trust amidst the small list of suspects. And, as the reader, you’re right there alongside him, putting together seemingly incidental pieces of information and pulling them into a cohesive narrative that eventually leads to the real reason Cameron Bright ended up dying so slowly and painfully out at the stockman’s grave.

The supporting cast are equally well realised and, as the novel progresses, you get a real sense of the shifting family dynamics and divided loyalties at play within the Bright family. Harper is fantastic at developing rounded characters and all of her characters feel like real people, with strengths and flaws. Good guys and bad guys are in short supply in The Lost Man. Instead you have people making choices; some good, some bad and some terrible.

The final character worthy of note is the outback itself. Harper has utterly captured the harsh yet beautiful landscape in which her story is set. From the searing dust of an outback morning to the cool balm of nighttime air, you can practically feel the heat rising from each page. The thin line between life and death in this beautiful but deadly landscape is bought fully to life in the book, and getting a glimpse into the struggle to maintain life amidst such a harsh climate was a fascinating aspect of the book.

As you can probably guess from the emphasis on character and setting, this is a slow burn of a book. The first third takes its time to set up the characters and the place, drip-feeding information gradually. The plot picks up pace about halfway in and I devoured the last third late at night, determined not to finish until I’d reached the end. So there’s a definite compulsion to the narrative but I wouldn’t necessarily call The Lost Man a page-turner. It’s a book that rewards considered reading and will be most appreciated by readers who want a well-written, compelling narrative with added depth. Fans of The Dry and Force of Nature will not be disappointed with The Lost Man and, with its mesmeric setting, entrancing narrative twists and absorbing characters, I very much hope that the book will bring a host of new readers to her work.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper is published by Little, Brown and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers, including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free eARC of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to the publisher for inviting me onto this tour. The blog tour continues until 13 February so please do check out the other stops along the way! 

The Lost Man Tour Poster

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Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Oh, I Do Like To Be by Marie Phillips

oh i do like to be coverTo B&B or not to B&B? That is the question…

Shakespeare clone and would-be playwright Billy has just arrived in an English seaside town with his sister Sally, who was cloned from a hair found on the back of a bus seat.

All Billy wants is a cheap B&B, an ice cream and a huge hit in the West End. 

Little does he know that their fellow clones Bill and Sal are also residents of this town. Things are about to get confusing – cue professional rivalry, marital discord and a family reunion like no other. 

Having previously read Marie’s wise-cracking take on Arthurian romance, The Table of Less-Valued Knights, I was expecting great things from Oh, I Do Like To Be. And sure enough, this extravagant comedy romp doesn’t disappoint. Combining Marie’s talent for screwball comedy with the plot of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, this is a madcap combination of mistaken identity, some dodgy genetic experimentation, the bard’s finest phrasing, and the pleasures of the English seaside resort.

Clones Billy and Sally are blissfully unaware of fellow clone twins Bill and Sal’s existence. All they want is a cheap B&B, an ice cream, and somewhere inspirational for Billy to write his West End debut. But when Billy is found by Sal and not Sally and taken home to his clone’s long-suffering wife Thandie, he quickly ends up in over his head. Because Bill has secrets and, in his efforts to extricate himself from the situation and reunite with Sally, Billy is going to plunge headlong into all of them!

Full of madcap characters, improbable situations and hilarious misunderstandings, this is a short, fun riot of a book that is packed to brimming with Shakespeare references and glossed with Marie’s spirited wit. When I started the book I was worried that I would find the Billy/Bill, Sally/Sal dynamic difficult to follow but, as with the Shakespeare play from which it borrows, Marie’s pared-back prose and eye for detail mean that it’s easy to follow who’s who, allowing me to sit back and enjoy the farcical comedy that ensued when Bill and Billy’s lives become entwined.

If mishaps, identity swapping and The Comedy of Errors aren’t for you, then you might not get the humour in Oh, I Do Like to Be but if (like me) you enjoy the occasional Ealing comedy then there’s plenty of belly-laughs to be had here. Oh, I Do Like To Be is one of those books that does what it says on the tin – funny, smart and a little bit ridiculous all at the same time. Perfect for gulping down in one sitting on a gloomy afternoon, this is a delightful read for cheering up these cold post-Christmas days.

Oh, I Do Like To Be by Marie Phillips is published by Unbound and available in ebook and paperback from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Unbound and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to join the blog tour. The tour continues until 31 January 2018 so do check out the other stops along the way!

oh i do like to be tour poster

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Run You Down by Julia Dahl

run you down coverAviva Kagan was just a teenager when she left her Hasidic Jewish lift in Brooklyn for a fling with a smiling college boy from Florida. A few months later she was pregnant, engaged to be married, and terrified. So, shortly after the birth of her daughter, Aviva disappeared.

Twenty-three years later, a man from the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Roseville, New York contacts NYC tabloid reporter Rebekah Roberts about his wife’s mysterious death. Once Rebekah starts investigating, she encounters a whole society of people who have wandered ‘off the path’ of Hasidism – just like her estranged mother. Aviva’s world, it turns out, contains dangerous secrets…

Having read and enjoyed Julia Dahl’s UK debut, Conviction, last year, I was eager to be part of the blog tour for Faber’s release of another Rebekah Roberts title, Run You Down. Whilst Run You Down is actually the second book in the Rebekah Roberts series (the first being Invisible City, also now available in the UK), it works absolutely fine as a standalone, with the events of the first book briefly alluded to only at the very start.

Rebekah is an absolutely fantastic character – engaging and determined yet mindful and empathetic, I found her to be a refreshing portrayal of a reporter. At the whims of the city desk, Rebekah has to get the story and get it on record but she never loses sight of the people, or the community, affected by her words. It is, sadly, rarer than it should be to find well-rounded, professional female leads in crime fiction so it is heartening that Rebekah; whilst personally connected to the story she is investigating through her estranged mother Aviva, doesn’t lose her head, remaining focused on being a thorough and professional reporter. I love how balanced she is as a character, with vulnerabilities and sharp edges, hopes and dreams. As in Conviction, Rebekah’s voice is definitely one of the strengths of the book and, having read backwards through the series, it’s fascinating to see how Dahl has developed her throughout each book.

I was also fascinated by the insights into the Orthodox Jewish community. Dahl has clearly done her research into Hasidic and Haredi Jews and vividly but respectfully brings their culture onto the page, without glancing away from some of the more problematic aspects of enclosed communities. More so than in Conviction, Run You Down focuses on some of the problems encountered by Orthodox Jews who choose to leave the community, examining the collision between freedom and vulnerability. Run You Down transports the reader into this world which is made to feel at once both strange and familiar. She is also unflinching in her portrayal of a neo-Nazi organisation, unafraid of getting underneath the skin of her characters and interrogating their motives and beliefs. It makes for a compelling melting pot, taut and tightly constructed but with a sensitivity and deftness of touch.

The plot, which alternates between Aviva’s life story and Rebekah’s investigation into the mysterious death of Pessie Goldin, builds in tension from the start. Initially, I found myself more interested in Rebekah’s investigation that Aviva’s tragic life, however, as the two strands of the story combined, I found myself racing through the pages, eager to know how Aviva’s backstory intertwined with Pessie’s death. The ending, explosive and poignant, was thought-provoking and moving, providing a satisfying conclusion but without too neat a tidying up of loose ends.

Unafraid to confront contemporary issues of gun control, racial tension, and religious freedom, Run You Down is a crime novel imbued with the flavours of our time. Alive from the first page to last, it uses a meticulously crafted plot and incisive characterisation to tell a profound and moving story; one that is filled with insight and compassion and will leave you thinking long after you’ve turned the final page.

Run You Down by Julia Dahl is published by Faber & Faber and is available now in paperback and ebook from all good bookstores and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book and an invitation to this tour in return for an honest and unbiased review. The tour continues until 11 January so please do check out the other stops along the way.

run you down tour poster

 

 

 

 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! The Wrong Boy by Cathy Ace

The Wrong Boy CoverPerched on a Welsh clifftop, the ancient, picturesque hamlet of Rhosddraig has its peaceful façade ripped apart when human remains are discovered under a pile of stones.

The village pub, The Dragon’s Head, run by three generations of women, becomes the focal point for those interested in the grisly find, and it’s where layers of deceit are peeled away to expose old secrets, and deep wounds. The police need to establish who died, how, and why, but DI Evan Glover knows he can’t be involved in the investigation because he’s just two days away from retirement.

However, as the case develops in unexpected ways, it becomes irrevocably woven into his life, and the lives of local families, leading to disturbing revelations – and deadly consequences . . .

Because I spend so much of my day job staring at a computer, I massively prefer reading tree books to ebooks. So it takes a very strong blurb to entice me onto a tour that’s offering e-proofs only. One look at Cathy Ace’s The Wrong Boy however and I was SO there for this blog tour!! A quiet village, a grisly find, three generations of family secrets – it’s like Shelf catnip!

And I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed. After a slightly slow start in which the key characters are established, I zipped through The Wrong Boy. Packed full of secrets and lies, this is a crime novel that will take the reader to some very dark places indeed, as the crimes of the past come back to haunt those living in the present.

At its heart, this is the story of three women – Myfanwy ‘Nan’ Jones, her daughter Helen, and her grand-daughter Sadie. The Jones’ have run The Dragon’s Head in Rhosddraig for generations and their family story is entwined with the story of the village itself. Family matriarch Nan rules with a sharp tongue and a disagreeable temper, whilst long-suffering Helen dreams of the life that could have been hers if she hadn’t made a poor choice long ago. Sadie meanwhile sees her redemption in barman Aled Benyon. But why does Nan dislike Aled’s mother so much? And is Aled really everything he seems?

Cathy Ace does a fantastic job of making us really live alongside Nan, Helen and Sadie. I found Nan to be a really dislikeable character – she’s sharp, difficult and vindictive – and it’s a testament to Ace’s writing that there were moments in the book when I truly loathed her. Helen and Sadie are much more sympathetic although both, in their own way, are touched by trauma and darkness. Similarly, I really enjoyed the chapters narrated by DI Evan Glover, a gentle long-serving copper who has been looking forward to spending a quiet retirement with his beloved wife, but who just can’t seem to step back from this one last case.

The plot has plenty of twists and turns. The start is a little slow – there are quite a few characters to introduce and it did take me a while to work out how everyone in Rhosddraig was related to each other – but it quickly picks up the pace as new secrets emerge and the police investigation gathers pace. And the ending is really quite a revelation – to say the climax is dramatic would, I think, be an understatement!

If I had a small criticism it would be that I think there are a few too many narrative perspectives in the book. Nan, Helen and Sadie are really strong characters and their voices really lived in my head when I was reading. Similarly, I found Evan’s voice very distinctive. However some of the more minor characters, such as Evan’s wife, also narrate a few sections and I did occasionally find all the head-jumping a little frustrating, especially as their voices and characters weren’t quite as strong.

That’s a really minor niggle in an otherwise excellent book, however. Cathy Ace has written a very engaging combination of police procedural and family drama, with a fabulous sense of place and characterisation. I really felt that I could see Rhosddraig and it’s many characters and, despite all the suspicious deaths, Ace’s descriptions of the rugged beauty of the Welsh coast made me nostalgic for the many years I spent living in Wales! Deftly plotted, with engaging characters, and a bewitching sense of place, I am so glad I got over my ebook qualms and picked this one up!

The Wrong Boy by Cathy Ace is published by Four Tails Publishing an is available now in hardcover, paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers, including Waterstones and Amazon. My thanks go to the author for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this tour. The tour continues until 13 January 2019 so please do check out some of the other stops! 

The Wrong Boy Tour Poster

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Lingering by S J I Holliday

The Lingering front FINALJack and Ali are looking for a fresh start and a new home at Rosalind House, a self-sufficient commune established in a former psychiatric hospital.

But the couple are clearly not all they seem, and their arrival sparks a chain of unexpected and unexplained incidents.

As the disturbing history of Rosalind House and the nearby village comes to light, events from the past return to haunt the residents, and someone is seeking retribution…

The best ghost stories, for me anyway, balance a thin tightrope between reality and the supernatural. Veer too far into the realm of ghouls and ghosts, and the book teeters into a horror. Not enough chill, however, and you’re left with a psycho-drama. Whilst The Lingering is definitely at the drama end of this spectrum, it walks this tightrope expertly; providing just enough by way of ghostly goings-on to keep the shivers running down the spine whilst maintaining the tension required for a compelling domestic thriller.

Told from multiple perspectives the novel primarily focuses on married couple Ali and Jack, whose entry into the self-sufficient community of Rosalind House sets off a chain of events that quickly spiral out of control. From the off, it is clear that all is not well with Ali and Jack. From Jack’s rapidly shifting moods to Ali’s watchful demeanour, this is a couple with secrets and it is the gradual revealing of these that drives the plot forwards. It’s a stately start, which could be off-putting to some readers; especially those used to page-turning domestic thrillers. Stick with it though because Ali and Jack’s journey is going to some very dark places indeed and, once the pace picks up, you’re on a non-stop ride of chills and revelations right up until the very last page.

The supernatural elements are handled really well, with the focus very much on the psychological elements of the supernatural. You’re never really sure exactly what is real and what is imagined in The Lingering, a trait that fits very well with the crime/thriller elements of the plot and leads to a hybrid novel that perfectly captures the essence of a good ghost story whilst remaining true to its crime thriller roots. Holliday has a masterful control of narrative tension, gradually building up a creeping sense of claustrophobia and unease before drawing it all together into a chilling conclusion that is sure to leave you double-checking the shadows of a night time!

I was also impressed with Holliday’s handling of character. Jack and Ali aren’t the most likeable of people – Ali, in particular, is a difficult customer with plenty of sharp edges and disturbing thoughts – but Holliday does a great job of keeping the reader by their side. By alternating between their perspectives and those of existing commune members, such as naive Angela and commune leader Smeaton, you get a real sense of each person and begin to genuinely worry for the safety of the commune and the family that has been created within it. And the interspersed diary entries (from Dr Henry Baldock’s 1955 journal) do a fantastic job of foreshadowing the dark events to come.

The Lingering is a brilliantly creepy tale that blends the gothic and the contemporary to deliver a sharp, spooky shot of unease. A fantastic blend of Susan Hill and Stephen King, this haunting book is a must for fans of the supernatural story as well as for those seeking a psychological thriller that’s prepared to offer something a little bit different. Original, dark, thrilling and atmospheric, read it with the lights on and – just a tip – maybe avoid reading this one in the bath!

The Lingering by SJI Holliday and published by Orenda Books is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book as part of an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me onto this blog tour and organising it. The blog tour continues until 30 November 2018 so do check out the other stops along the way!

Lingering blog poster 2018 (1) (1)

 

 

Blog Tours · Reviews · Seasonal Reads

BLOG TOUR!! The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin

Long ShadowJolted from sleep by the ringing of the telephone, Imogen stumbles through the dark, empty house to answer it. At first, she can’t quite understand the man on the other end of the line. Surely he can’t honestly be accusing her of killing her husband, Ivor, who died in a car crash barely two months ago.

As the nights draw in, Imogen finds her home filling up with unexpected Christmas guests, who may be looking for more than simple festive cheer. Has someone been rifling through Ivor’s papers? Who left the half-drunk whiskey bottle beside his favourite chair? And why won’t that man stop phoning, insisting he can prove Imogen’s guilt?

As the nights draw in and cosying up in front of the fire with a book and a blanket once again becomes a socially acceptable way to spend an entire evening, I do love reading a good mystery. There’s something about settling down with a puzzle that fits with the season so I’ve been a big fan of recent efforts by a number of publishers to track down and reissue seasonally appropriate titles.

Celia Fremlin’s The Long Shadow is the latest in Faber & Faber’s re-discovery of the Edgar Award-winning novelist, following on from their 2017 edition of her debut, The Hours Before Dawn. Fremlin, heralded as a talented writer of domestic suspense in her day, seems to have been largely forgotten following her death in 2009 and, on the evidence of The Long Shadow, certainly deserves a larger readership upon the reissuing of her works.

Although there is nothing particularly innovative about the mystery element of The Long Shadow, the tone is something quite unique. Fremlin has given her main character, the newly widowed Imogen, a sharp, wry tone completely at odds with her role of the grieving widow. It’s the source of a great deal of dark humour within the book, as in this scene, where Imogen and her widowed neighbour, Edith, discuss the new year:

“‘Not a happy New Year, Imogen, because we both know hat cannot be,’ Edith was saying, her lined, indoor face haggard and hungry-looking in the silvery winter sunshine. ‘Not a happy, but a peaceful year, that’s what I shall wish for you, my dear: I pray that you may discover what I discovered: that even though happiness is at an end, you may still win through to a kind of peace….’

I won’t. If they try to palm me off with peace, I’ll throw it at them. Happiness is where I’m going and I shan’t stop till I get there. If Peace comes and gets in the way, I shall kick it.

‘Thank you, Edith, and the same to you,’ was what she said aloud: and five minutes later, found herself wondering whether Peace hadn’t, after all, something to be said for it.”

Brilliant isn’t it?! So sharp yet without acid. To me, Fremlin perfectly captures the exact thoughts that often go through our heads during a polite conversation, but which we would never dare to say out loud! It makes Imogen a very different kind of narrator and gives the tone of the book a feel of Patricia Highsmith, filled with sharp observations on human nature and character.

This isn’t to say that the plot is in any way lacking, however. There is a well-crafted mystery here, with plenty of subtle clues that require astute reading to unravel. I feel though that Fremlin is more interested in the psychological aspects of crime that the method and means. Her focus in The Long Shadow is what makes her characters tick – the nuances of human behaviour and personal circumstance that might lead someone to do something desperate. In pursuit of this, she succeeds in crafting a tense and suspenseful domestic setting, filled with acutely observed characters with plenty of secrets to hide.

The Christmas link is, if I’m honest, a little tenuous. Although Christmas is the occasion that results in the deceased Ivor’s eclectic friends and family descending on Imogen, only part of the action takes place over the festive season and I think if you were seeking a specifically festive flavour complete with oodles of mince pies and snow at every corner, you might be a tad disappointed here. That said, I can’t blame Faber for seeing the marketing opportunity and if it brings more readers to this excellent writer, then I think we should forgive the slight over-emphasis on the holiday that the cover suggests.

Astute, well-observed, and cleverly crafted, The Long Shadow is a clever and compelling mystery with a side order of domestic noir. It’s clearly the product of a writer with a talent for observation and a wry, dark sense of humour. I can certainly recommend it to fans of Patricia Highsmith, as well as those who enjoyed more recent domestic chillers such as Kate Muray Browne’s The Upstairs Room. Well done to Faber for reissuing Fremlin’s work and helping her work enjoy the readership that it surely deserves.

The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin and published by Faber & Faber is available now as a paperback and ebook in all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher, Faber & Faber, for providing me with a copy of the book and inviting me to take part in this tour in return for an honest and unbiased review. The blog tour continues until 24 November 2018 so please do go and check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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Blog Tours · Extracts

BLOG TOUR!!! The Glorious Dead by Tim Atkinson

The Glorious Dead CoverWhat happened when the Great War ended and the guns stopped firing? Who cleared the battlefields and buried the dead?

It’s 1918 and the war may be over but Lance-Corporal Jack Patterson and the men of his platoon are still knee-deep in Flanders mud, searching the battlefields for the remains of comrades killed in action.

But duty isn’t all that’s keeping Jack in Flanders. For one there is Katia, the daughter of a local publican, with whom he has struck up a romance. And then there is something else, a secret that lies buried in Jack’s past, one he hopes isn’t about to be dug up…

I’m delighted today to be part of the blog tour for The Glorious Dead, Tim Atkinson’s fascinating novel about a little-known aspect of The Great War. Focusing on the soldiers who stayed to clear up the aftermath of four long years of fighting, the novel is a testament to the forgotten generation, as well as to those who endeavoured to preserve their dignity and memory afterwards. I’m so pleased to be able to share an exclusive extract from the second chapter of the book with you today.

———————————————————————

The old ex-RAMC ambulance bounces along across the weed-strewn cobbles of the Menin Road and into the Grote Markt. ‘That’s right,’ Ocker shouts as Blake, the platoon driver, eases off on the accelerator. ‘Give ’em one last ride to remember.’

The wagon stops and the engine judders to a standstill in the empty market square. Four years of constant shelling have left Ypres little more than a bombed-out ruin, but just three months after the Armistice the roads have all been cleared and piles of stone line the streets, covered in a thin layer of snow.

‘Right.’ Sergeant Townend jumps down from the cab, and runs his stick along the canvas sides of the truck. ‘Everybody out!’

‘They can’t hear you, Sarge,’ a muffled voice replies. ‘You what?’

‘They’re all flamin’ dead!’

Lined up inside the ambulance, sewn into sacks tied with luggage labels, the results of the morning’s exhumations drip and settle on the wooden stretcher shelves.

‘Come on,’ Jack says, unbolting the tailgate of the old green Albion lorry that has been following the motor ambulance back from Zonnebeke. ‘I’ve had enough of this.’

‘Me too,’ says another soldier, jumping down and wiping his brow with a tartan handkerchief.

‘What’s the plan then, Jacko?’ asks Ocker as he watches Sergeant Townend turning on his heels and striding off across the cobbles.

‘The plan?’ Jack narrows his eyes and frowns as he stares after the NCO. ‘That depends on where’s Townend’s going. Anyone know?’

Skerritt grunts and raises his hand. ‘Anyone who can talk!’

‘Said he was going to see that the coolies have dug the graves,’ Ocker says. ‘Before we all march over there and tuck these coves in.’

‘The what?’ says Fuller. ‘Coolies?’

‘Y’know – little Chinese fellas,’ Ocker puts a finger to the corner of his eyes and pulls the skin tight.

‘Well he’ll be lucky,’ Jack says, ‘after what happened yesterday.’

‘Wha— why?’ Fuller shrugs. ‘What happened yesterday?’ ‘Later, sunshine.’ Ocker slaps a hand on Fuller’s shoulder.

‘When you’re older.’

‘I’m bloody nineteen I am!’

‘Yeah, yeah – and I’m the King o’ the flamin’ Belgians.’ ‘Come on,’ says Mac, folding up his handkerchief. ‘Put us all

out of our misery. What did happen yesterday, Jack?’ ‘A Chinaman were murdered,’ Jack says. ‘That’s all.’ ‘Murdered?’

‘Aye, lad, killed.’

‘The fate you took so much trouble to avoid, son,’ Mac mutters.

‘But?’

‘Aye. An’ now they’re all confined to barracks at De Clijte until they catch the bugger that did it.’

‘Then what, Jacko? What’ll they do to him?’ ‘Shoot ’im, I reckon.’

‘Shoot him?’

‘Someone really ought to tell the coolies that the flamin’ war is over,’ Ocker laughs. ‘Don’t you think?’

‘Poor wee beggars.’ MacIntyre stuffs the tartan handkerchief back into his tunic pocket. ‘Have yer no seen the conditions they’re working under?’

‘Poor flamin’ fools, more like,’ says Ocker.

‘Never mind all that now, lads,’ Jack interrupts. ‘We’re wasting precious time here. Townend’s going to be at least half an hour before he finds out what’s actually happened. He’ll be expecting t’Chinks to have dug t’graves ready for this lot.’

‘So he’s got a bit of a surprise coming.’

‘Aye. Now, what about Ingham? Anyone know where he’s off to?’

‘Well he won’t be digging no graves!’ says Fuller. ‘Not officially, anyway.’

‘Nah, he’s gone to fetch the sky pilot,’ Ocker tells them. ‘If he can find one, that is. So, anyway, I reckon, as that’s Ingham and Townend taken care of . . .’

‘What?’

‘I reckon we’ve time for a beer, if we’re quick about it. What d’you think, Jacko?’

‘Why not,’ Jack says. ‘The local?’ The men all cheer. ‘The local!’

The ‘local’ – such as it is – is little more than a  wooden hut above the cellar of Monsieur Steenvan’s old café on the bombed-out corner of Station Straat and Malou Laan in Ypres. Not much to look at. Not that the men mind.

‘The crafty old bugger certainly seems to have a knack for making money,’ Ocker says. ‘Skittles off to Poperinghe within minutes of the Jerries taking over back in 1914 . . .’

‘Someone had to make sure the British Army’s thirst was quenched,’ Mac interrupts.

‘. . . and then as soon as the fighting’s over he’s back in Ypres like a shot staking the family’s claim on its old estaminet.’

‘Not that there was much left of it by then,’  says Jack. ‘There is now, though, ain’t there?’ Fuller says. ‘Thanks to us!’

‘Less of the “us”, sunshine.’

‘I ’elped him build it an’ all,’ Fuller protests. ‘You wasn’t the only ones scrounging bits of wood and old corrugated iron for him.’

‘Keep yer voice down, will yer,’ Jack hisses.

***

The subterranean world of cellars and crypts close to the railway station in Ypres is proving fertile soil for the new buildings that are rising from the city ruins. Entreaties from the British to leave the area untouched go ignored. Only round the ancient Cloth Hall and the cathedral is no building work allowed. A stencilled sign swings on a wire that surrounds the cordon sanitaire. A solitary guard nods as the men hurry past.

THIS IS HOLY GROUND

NO STONE OF THIS FABRIC MAY BE TAKEN AWAY IT IS A HERITAGE FOR ALL CIVILISED PEOPLES

‘Only the British Army could make a bloke stand guard over a pile of rubble,’ Ocker says to the sentry. ‘Worried the locals are going to pounce on you and rebuild the place while your back’s turned are you, mate?’

‘Actually, you know, that’s exactly what they are worried about,’ says Blake.

‘What’s that, mate?’

‘And he hasn’t even had a drink yet, either!’

‘Yeah, but don’t argue with him. He’s armed and dangerous, ain’t you, Blakey? Armed with that Bible that goes everywhere with ’im.’

But Blake is ignoring them. ‘I can think of no more beautiful monument to the dead . . .’ He stops for a moment, closing his eyes as he tries to remember the rest of the speech he has read in the papers.

‘What? No more beautiful monument than this old pile of stone?’

A more sacred place for the British race does not exist in the world.

‘Blimey,’ Fuller laughs. ‘Who the hell said that?’ ‘Winston Churchill, actually.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ the boy says. ‘Has he ever seen the place?’

‘Aye, lad,’ Jack says. ‘Commanded one o’ the Jock battallions at Plug Street Wood. Isn’t that right, Mac?’

‘It is so.’

‘Well, either way, it’s just a heap of bleedin’ rubble now,’ says Fuller.

‘Oh, fair dinkum, mate, it’s a very nice pile of rubble!’ ‘Cleared a lot of it myself,’ says Jack. ‘And under fire, an’ all.’ ‘No doubt when this wee chicken-hertit callan’ – Mac turns, poking Fuller in the chest with his finger – ‘was still tied ti’is mammy’s apron strings.’

‘Me mam was ill,’ the boy snaps.

‘Aye, laddie, we know. She tied the apron strings tae tight.’

***

The men hurry down Boter Straat, turning left towards the Rijkswachtkazerne. A cart piled high with furniture squeaks down a narrow alley followed by an old dog with a limp. Heading into Station Straat, the men arrive at the door of the ‘local’. A painted sign above the door reads ‘British Tavern’, but Jack isn’t ordering drinks in English.

Zes pintjes, er . . . asjeblief?’ He removes his cap and walks up to the bar. Two locals in heavy coats look up briefly from a game of cards. Another customer smiles, but not at them. A young girl laughs before the woman serving turns and begins drawing down a jug of beer. ‘Hey, lass.’ Jack ruffles the girl’s dark hair. ‘What’s does little Françoise find so funny?’

‘You!’ the girl replies with a cheeky smile. Along the bar her elder sister Katia stands decanting a foaming mug of cloudy auburn liquid from a pewter jug. A line of chipped earthenware tankards stands waiting in a row along the wooden counter. Katia knows Jack’s order, however he chooses to say it.

The bar of what was once a modest family hotel is little more than a low trestle table set before a row of wooden barrels. The larger casks tilt forward slightly on the cracked stone floor. Wine flasks with brass taps squat on the shelf above, together with a few old, unlabelled bottles. ‘Why do you try to speak Flemish?’ the little girl asks. Jack takes the first of the mugs the barmaid has filled and closes his eyes, taking a long, slow drink.

‘Why not?’ He licks the moustache of foam from his lips. ‘It is grappig, that’s all.’

‘Funny? What, me saying it in t’first place?’ Jack says. ‘Or the way I say it?’

‘Both,’ Françoise replies, wrinkling her nose.

‘Well,’ Jack shakes his head and pouts. ‘That’s a fine way to encourage a chap who’s trying his best to learn the local lingo.’

‘Don’t be sad!’ the girl looks up him at him.

‘How could I be sad,’ Jack smiles, picking Françoise up and spinning her round, ‘with thee here to make me laugh. Friends?’ Jack puts the girl down and offers her his hand. ‘Vrienden?

‘Vrienden!’ the girl smiles.

‘Now, Françoise’ – he passes her the tray – ‘be a good girl an’ take these over to the men, will yer? I just want to have a quick word with your big sister.’ The girl curls her fingers round the edges of the tray, without once taking her eyes off the beer. ‘Steady now!’ Jack calls. ‘Be careful, lass. Them lads is thirsty!’

‘You should not ask her to do that, Jacques.’ The older girl is standing watching, smiling, idly circling a tea towel on the bar. ‘She is too young.’

‘She’s not!’ Jack says. ‘I were doing more than carrying trays when I were her age, I reckon.’

The woman smiles and shakes her head. ‘I think I can imagine!’

‘Anyway, how else is a fella going to get a moment to himself with—’

Bier alsjeblieft!’ The young woman breaks off to serve another customer. Their brief conversation moves too fast for Jack to follow, but it is obvious that the man is something of a regular. She is getting him a glass Jack notices – a clean one, too.

‘Hey, Katia, geef me een kus!’ The man is dangling a crumpled banknote in the air like bait. As Katia reaches for the cash the man snatches it away, grabbing her wrist with his free hand.

Nee!’ the woman is struggling. ‘NEE!

He pulls her towards him and puckers his lips before looking around. But nobody else is laughing.

‘Cheers!’ Jack leans across and clinks his mug – hard – into the man’s round, stemmed glass, spilling some of the beer. ‘Cheers, yer fat Belgian bastard.’

‘Cheers?’ the man looks puzzled for a moment. ‘Cheers?

Vaar kom je vandaan?

Hij komt uit Engeland.’ Katia is smoothing down her apron and replacing a pin in her hair.

‘Ah, English!’ the fat stranger shouts. ‘You are English.

Tommy?’

‘No – Jack.’

‘Ha, ha – erg grappig. Very funny.’

Françoise, ga in de rug en haal papa. Vertel hem de heer de Wulf hier.’

The girl trots off behind the counter to fetch her father while Katia resumes the slow, circular movement of the towel she is rubbing on the surface of the bar. Her hair, hurriedly pinned back after the brief exchange across the bar, still escapes in a few loose strands. Her cheeks are flushed with embarrassment and anger.

‘Hey, Jacko, you joinin’ us, mate?’

‘Ah, he’s too busy with the langue d’amour!’ ‘I’ll be along in a minute, lads.’

‘We haven’t got all day, you know.’

‘Yeah, come on, Jacko,’ Ocker says, bringing back the empty tray. ‘We’ve time for another if you’re quick about it.’

‘Blimey, that can’t have touched t’sides,’ Jack picks up one of the empty tankards.

‘Thirsty work, grave digging,’ says Ocker. ‘You should know that, Jacko.’

‘Love?’

Katia picks up the pewter jug. The barrels only travel a short distance by road from the brewery in nearby Poperinghe, but the beer is always lively. Monsieur Steenvan’s eldest daughter, as her father taught her, is taking great care filling each of the mugs in turn. But time and the men’s thirst are pressing.

‘Happen I’ll take these over,’ Jack tells her, putting the half-filled mugs on a tray. ‘Bring us the jug across later. We’ll top ’em up for ourselves.’

‘Hey, je negeert me – you are ignoring me.’ The fat man with the beer glass is turning to address the half-empty room. ‘They are ignoring me – Tommy and his girlfriend. Look at them.’ He laughs, making another grab for Katia’s hand, knocking the jug she is holding in the process. ‘Hey! Give that to me. I need a top-up, too.’

‘Look, mate, there’s a flamin’ queue here,’ Ocker says, elbowing past the man to help Jack with the tray.  ‘And  you’  –  he shoves the man away – ‘you’re at the back, you fat ugly bastard.’

Jack catches the stranger’s arm as he shapes to throw a punch, but he can’t prevent him sticking out a boot and send- ing Ocker, together with the beers, crashing to the floor. ‘Now that weren’t very friendly, was it?’ Jack pulls the man back, sharply.

‘Let go of my arm,’ he winces. But Jack’s grip tightens and he twists the man’s wrist, forcing the stranger to turn sharply in an attempt to unwind from the pain.

‘Leave this to me, Ocker lad.’ Jack shoves an arm up the man’s back, but Ocker is already scrambling to his feet and aiming a full-blooded punch at the fat man’s gut. As he doubles over, Ocker’s knee cracks hard into the man’s jaw through a cushion of soft flesh. Jack releases the grip on his wrist and the man goes sprawling across the wet floor.

‘No, please – stop!’ cries Katia, holding her hands to her face.

‘Come on, lads.’ Blake is standing up and flapping his arms. ‘Enough! No need for violence.’

But Ocker hasn’t finished. ‘You want your mates to know you’ve been in a proper fight, don’t you, cobber?’ He kneels beside him, lifting the man by the scruff of the neck and slapping his cheeks.

‘Smashed a perfectly good jug there too, Ocker. As well as spilling our beer.’

‘Reckon we ought to rub his fat face in that, Jacko. What do you think? After all’ – he lifts the man by the scruff of the neck again – ‘obviously missed the main event, didn’t you, mate?’

‘Too bloody fat to fight,’ says Jack. ‘Wouldn’t fit that gut in t’trenches.’

‘Come on now, lads, you’ve had your fun,’ Mac interrupts. ‘And I want my beer.’

Katia has turned away and is already filling up another jug. ‘That’s enough now, Ocker. Come on – the beer’s ready.’ Jack takes the fresh jug Katia has just filled and moves towards the table.

‘Enough? Mate, I’ve only just started!’

‘Later, Ocker. Leave it. You’ll have the redcaps on us if you aren’t careful.’

The fat man struggles to his feet, slipping on the wet floor but suddenly smiling as he drapes a heavy arm around Ocker’s shoulders. The few remaining customers in the tiny bar have fled, leaving their cards on the table. ‘We are all friends here, heh?’ the fat man is slurring. ‘Heh! Heh?’

‘Jeez, this guy’s a nutter,’ Ocker shakes his head. ‘You should’ve let me finish him off just now when I had the chance.’ Jack starts picking up the broken pottery shards, placing them back on the sticky tray. ‘Sorry, love. Tell your pa we’ll make it up to him. But he won’t miss that jug. Not when he sees what else he’s got coming to him.’ Katia calls to someone in the back room of the estaminet. ‘Scrounged a few elephants the other day. Some decent lengths o’ timber, too.’ ‘Elephants?’ She looks puzzled.

‘Aye, lass. Old sheets of iron just like them ones.’ He points to the ceiling. ‘I’m sure your pa will find a use for ’em. As well as all the other stuff.’

‘I can find a use for them,’ the fat man shouts, wiping his face on a handkerchief. ‘I can pay for them,’ he reaches in his jacket pocket for a wad of notes. ‘With this!’

‘They’re not for sale,’ Jack says.

‘Ha, Steenvan pays you in . . . beer, no?’ ‘No!’

‘Ah!’ He turns and winks at Katia. ‘Maybe la belle Katia is what you are after, eh?’

‘I’ve told you,’ Jack says, ‘they’re not for sale. ‘Not to you, anyhow.’

‘But, Jacques,’ Katia slowly shakes her head, ‘you don’t understand. Monsieur de Wulf is—’

‘Hey! Wat is er gaande?’ Her father appears at the curtained door between the small kitchen and the bar. His dark eyes flit round the room before noticing the broken pottery shards on the bar.

‘Katia!’ he shouts. ‘Wat gebeurt er?

Het was een ongeluk, papa,’ the girl spreads her hands and shrugs. ‘An accident . . .’

——————————————————————————

The Glorious Dead by Tim Atkinson is published by Unbound and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Unbound, Amazon and Waterstones. Many thanks to Tim for sharing this exclusive extract with us today, as well as to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising the tour. Tour stops continue until 09 November so please do check out other stops for more on the book. 

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