‘Well, I won’t be sorry not to see him again,’ said Liam, reaching for the bottle. There was something about Ernie’s expression that made him pause. ‘…What?’
His friend flashed red again. ‘Well, I don’t’ know about that. I might be seein’ him rather soon, I’d imagine. I was thinkin’ of oppin’ over there for a visit. What…?’
Liam nearly fell off his chair. He still held the bottle in his hand and slowly put it back on the table. ‘Have you lost your marbles, Ern? Shell shock is it? What the hell would you want to go back there for? Not for Sabine, I hope! Jaysus, half the men in Wipers had a hard-on for her and the other half were dead. You are another old costumer to her is all.’
Ernie’s scar flared for a moment and his face took on a resolute look. ‘Well, I think she likes me. She’s written as often as me… told me all about herself; she trusts me.’
Liam grunted. He felt the anger rise inside him. She still had that effect, even now; despite the Tans, Kate and everything else that had happened in his life… she haunted him almost as much as the trenches themselves.
‘The only thing that one trusts is money. You can trust me on that.’
‘You’re being a bit hard there, mate. Why else would she tell me what she did, then?’ he asked, sounding a little sullen.
‘And what was that?’ asked Liam, trying to remind himself that the man sitting across from him had killed more Germans than anyone else in the platoon.
‘About the gold… that there’s a pile of gold buried near Messines.’
Liam reached for the bottle again and this time got the whiskey in the cup. ‘What are ye on about?’
In spite of being part of a larger series, this novel actually stands pretty well on its own, almost an aside from the main series, which takes place during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. This one is a great heist adventure, quite classic in its structure, but made unique by the complex relationships between the characters.
These relationship is what I liked the most. The cast is slim (and gets slimmer, let me tell you), but the relations between these few characters are so complex and believable that it was what really propelled my reading rather than for the stash of gold.
On the one side there’s Liam’s ‘band of brothers’, WWI veterans who fought together and came home to an uneasy life, all of them, never fully adjusting back to civil life. I love the way the author depicts these veterans, the way war is part of them and continuously filters into their life, their thoughts, their nightmares. The way they share this experience in an exclusive way, because they feel only who’s been there can truly understand. And still I love how they are different, so very different from one another.
On the other side there’s Sabine with the questionable crew she’s surrounded with. Sabine herself is a formidable character, a true femme fatale, clever, ambitious, screwed. You can never be sure what she’s up to, what she’s thinking, whether what she tells is true or not.
The historical setting is incredibly vivid. It is Flanders only a few years after the end of WWI. And the war is actually everywhere, not just in the minds of the soldiers who fought there when it turned into a waste of mud, but also in the scars that carve the land still. In the bodies resurfacing everywhere, in the debris of war that nobody has picked up yet.
I really enjoyed the historical reenactment. It lives on details and precise references and it feels authentic and true.
While the first half of the novel is more about the relationship among characters, the second half is more about action. It’s a breathtaking sequence of adventures that brings you to the end and you don’t even realised you’ve read pages and chapters. It’s easy to read, fast paced, and still very realistic and believable.
I really enjoyed it.
I had planned to read four novels for the Reading Ireland Month. Unfortunately, due to the many commitments I’ve (unwisely) taken up in these last few months, I couldn’t meet that goal. But at least I can post one entry, and a very good one at that.
The Reading Ireland Month is organised by Cathy Brown and Niall McArdle. Do visit their blogs and read lots of fantastic posts about Ireland.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies