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The First Casualty by Ben Elton
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The First Casualty (original 2005; edition 2007)

by Ben Elton

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6142515,860 (3.63)29
Member:annalena21
Title:The First Casualty
Authors:Ben Elton
Info:Black Swan (2007), Edition: Export ed, Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The First Casualty by Ben Elton (2005)

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An odd book, relatively decent plot but to me seemed derivative of Pat Barker. ( )
1 vote soliloquies | Apr 14, 2013 |
My second Ben Elton and while it was better than the first book I read - [b:Blind Faith|2164457|Blind Faith|Ben Elton|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320483062s/2164457.jpg|2346268] - that isn't saying much as Blind Faith was a mere '2 Star' read for me. This was not a bad book, but I thought that it could certainly have been better given the interesting premise.

Douglas Kingsley is a stubborn idealist (not a pacifist, mind you) who works as a policeman in World War-I era Britain. And alike all egoistical idealists, he denies to participate in the war even though that means his family would also have to face the consequences of his rather hypocritical stand against something he did anyway in his previous life - killing (He was a policeman after all, and admits himself that had sent quiet a few criminals to their death while working for the government and even had done some things that he didn't like). He denies to participate in the war as the sheer scale was too big to ignore! (Didn't I say he was a hypocrite?)

So, after having been disgraced nationally and sent to prison, Kingsley dreads being he might be murdered in prison by one of the fellow prisoners he himself arrested when he was a policeman.

But then something amazing happens. An officer cum a famous poet is killed in Ypres. Not by enemy fire. But in a hospital by a fellow Briton. Thus under special circumstances, Kingsley is sent to the front to investigate the murder.

The premise sounds interesting enough, doesn't it?

But my problem with the book was that that Elton lingered too much on the disgrace aspect of Kingsley's life in Britain after his denial to participate in the war and hence takes a very long time (more than half a book) to actually advance the main plot of the story. And even when Kingsley reaches the battlefront in France, the book fails to recapture wholly the sheer horror faced by the men in the Great War.

Even the final confrontation of Kingsley with the real killer seems overtly dramatic and hence unintentionally hilarious.

The book had promise, but for me, it didn't deliver.

That's 2 in 2, Mr. Elton. ( )
  Veeralpadhiar | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is a surprising subject and quality of book from Ben Elton. I've not read any of his writings, and this wasn't what I expected from his public persona. Douglas Kingsley is a detective in Scotland yard during WW1. He's also currently in court, on the charge of refusing to join the army to fight under conscription. His objections aren't moral or of cowardice, they are intellectual. He comes across badly, as an intellectual snob (but I can sympathise with that one) and doesn't gain much in the way of popular sympathy. His wife leaves him in shame and he faces the wrath of the court.
That doesn't go down well and he is duly sent to prison, where it becomes a case of which set of old enemies is going to have the pleasure of doing him in...
At this point the scene shifts and we meet Viscount Abercrombie, who's a lieutenant in the army about to head back to France. He's also a renown poet of patriotic and highly acclaimed, sentimental tosh including something called "Forever England". He also happens to be a bent as a nine bob note. Abercrombie enjoys a last night in London, enjoying the pleasures on offer before heading to his regiment on the front near Ypres. He's not exactly full of bonhomie, but he is welcomed by his fellow officers. In the course of his duty, he happens to put on charge a Private Hoskins, who is a Bolshevic and disobeys a direct order during a break from the front. After going over the top, these two end up in rooms next to each other at a hospital for nervous cases and it is during his stay here that Abercrombie becomes the corpse. Douglas is sent to investigate, as there are political implications to this death which wasn't (as posted in the papers) "in the line of duty".

There's a lot of build up to this, it's about half way through before the murder is committed, but all that background works for the story. The characters are clearly drawn and Kingsley's struggles to reconcile himself with what he sees and experiences is well represented. There is the question of why should one murder be investigated in the middle of a war in which thousands are dying, but government sanctioned murder is different from the personal, private, murder that takes place here. You can't help but sympathise with Kingsley and his views, especially when viewed at this remove, he certainly makes a lot of sense. but war and sense don't often go hand in hand, and you can see how much he was out of step with his times. A very good read. ( )
  Helenliz | Mar 31, 2013 |
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 evermore blurred, Kingsley quickly learns that the first casualty when war comes is truth. ( )
  dalzan | Sep 6, 2011 |
I enjoy Ben Elton's book as he usually takes a current fad or popular topic and renders a decent satire from it. Little bit political, little bit zeitgeisty - his novels usually make for a nice bit of light reading between weightier ones.

The First Casualty however is a cut above the standard fare. Essentially a police investigative thriller set in 1917 it brings together the various political actors of the day (pacifists and conscientious objectors, socialists and union men, Irish republicans, secret homosexuals and suffragettes) against the backdrop of World War I.

The period is convincingly evoked - from Whitehall to Folkestone promenade to Passchendaele. There are visits to the trenches and raids across no mans land depicting the full horror, mud and blood of the front. The investigation takes some unlikely turns and readers coming to this book purely for a detective mystery might be disappointed - its more of a vehicle to show the politics and horrors of the Great War than anything else.

The book is dedicated to Ben Elton's two grandfathers who fought on opposite sides in the War. One of his best novels, he has done them proud. ( )
  clevinger | Jan 22, 2011 |
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This book is dedicated to the memory of my much-loved grandfathers, Victor Ehrenberg and Harold Foster, who served on opposite sides in the First World War.
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The soldier was laden like a pack mule.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0552771309, Paperback)

In Flanders in 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 Konig, formerly a detective with the London police, soon discovers that both the evidence and the witnesses he needs are quite literally disappearing into the mud that surrounds him.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:01 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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