- published in 2008 by Little, Brown
- ISBN 9-780316-731553
- 346 pages
- source: library book
- #3 in the Father Anselm series
'To keep quiet about something so important ...well, it's almost a lie, wouldn't you say?' When Father Anselm meets Kate Seymour in the cemetery at Larkwood, he is dismayed to hear her allegation. Herbert Moore had been one of the founding fathers of the Priory, revered by all who met him, a man who'd shaped Anselm's own vocation.
The idea that someone could look on his grave and speak of a lie is inconceivable. But Anselm soon learns that Herbert did indeed have secrets in his past that he kept hidden all his life.
In 1917, during the terrible slaughter of the Passchendale campaign, a soldier faced a court martial for desertion. Herbert, charged with a responsibility that would change the course of his life, sat upon the panel that judged him. In coming to understand the court martial, Anselm discovers its true significance: a secret victory that transformed the young Captain Moore and shone a light upon the horror of war.
I decided to read this title because my face-to-face book group have chosen a later one in the Father Anselm series for discussion next month.
Father Anselm realises from his brief discussion with Kate Seymour, a visitor to Herbert Moore's grave, that there are great many things he does not know about Father Moore. Anselm takes his disquiet to the Prior who reveals that before Herbert died he had given the Prior some army tags to be handed on to a Joseph Flanagan. For the last fifteen years of his life Herbert had awaited a visit by Joseph Flanagan but he never came. The Prior hands over to Anselm a box of Herbert's possessions containing among other things an envelope addressed to a Private Harold Shaw. The army tags belong to yet another name.
So at the Prior's request Anselm begins to investigate what Herbert Moore had done during the war, and to see if he can carry out Herbert's final request. Anselm solves one mystery to find that there is yet another. The final mystery is not revealed until the very last pages.
The structure of the story is interesting: the results of Anselm's investigations parallel a "real-time" narration of what happened to Herbert Moore in the first World War, and in particular in an "event" he was involved in during 1917. Not a day goes past for the rest of his life that Herbert does not think about his role in that event.
The novel also covers issues like what happened on the front during the war: the inequity of punishments for desertion for example due to timing, rank, and nationality; the horrific effects of bombardments on both sides; the effects of battlefield cleanup and burial duties on those who remained; the decimation of battalions; the differences in how soldiers and commanding officers were treated, accommodated, and fed; and the reasons why men enlisted.
Fascinating stuff. A reminder that at the end those who fought in the First World War were, first and foremost, people, who sometimes just found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
My rating: 4.9