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AT SOME DISPUTED BARRICADE
By Anne Perry
Ballantine, 2007 ($21.95 )
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
The title to this book comes from the poem by Alan Seeger, an American poet who died in the Great War on July 4, 1916:
I have a rendezvous with death At some disputed barricade.
Alan Seeger's celebrated poem well describes the state of mind of the British Army in the late summer of 1917. Three years of death, destruction, and mind-numbing horror have taken their toll, and victory seems an impossible dream. Every man longs to spend another springtime in his homeland, but he realizes it is more likely that he will become just another broken body buried in the muddy fields of Flanders. There are rumors that many French soldiers, fed up with their leaders' failure to end the war, are on the brink of mutiny. Chaplain Joseph Reavley, who has been serving with the men of his village since the beginning of the war, fears that the British Tommys are near the breaking point as well. He can understand their feelings, but when twelve of those men are charged with the murder of an unpopular officer, he is torn about what to do. When he is given the task of finding some way of lessening their punishment while easing a father's heartache and anger and not destroying an officer's reputation, he must decide whether to follow the strict dictates of military law, or do what his heart tells him is morally right. Things get more complicated when eleven of the men escape custody, and it is obvious that they had help from within the camp. Joseph is sent to find them and bring them back for trial.
His quest takes him to Paris, where he meets an old friend who reminds him that following the letter of the law is not always the best or most honorable thing to do. Later on, he hitches a ride behind enemy lines with a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. During the nail-biting flight, he has a close brush with one of Germany's top aces, which adds a bit of levity to this mostly somber, bleak story.
Meanwhile, back in England, Matthew Reavley is having his own problems. He thought he had seen the last of his nemesis, the shadowy character know as the Peace Maker, who was responsible for the death of the Reavley's parents as well as many other good and decent men. Events occur that makes him think that the villain had accomplices carrying out his work, or, worse, that the man he killed was not the Peace Maker after all. A junior cabinet minister seeks his help when he is accused of blackmailing another official. As Matthew investigates, he sees a pattern: someone is attempting to discredit those who are seeking to prevent an alliance with the enemy and bring about a lasting peace with a very high price tag. He knows he must be getting close to the truth when someone starts trying to kill him.
Journalist Richard Mason, whose belief in the validity of the Peace Maker's aims was shaken during an encounter with Joseph some months earlier, is once again under his sway. He is charged with going to the battlefront to publicize the trial of the twelve as a way of showing the low morale in the field, twisting the story to achieve the aims of the Peace Maker and his cohorts. Mason's support of the man's cause is not as strong as it once was, and his contact with the Reavleys is largely responsible for that. He admires Matthew's courage, and he is half in love with Judith. Knowing that he will see her again at the front weighs heavily in convincing him to make the trip. Her change from the light-hearted society girl he'd first seen in a posh London hotel lobby to a dedicated, fearless ambulance driver impresses him, and makes him feel that he is not worthy of her love.
The trial finally begins, and things look bleak for the accused. The judge and prosecutor are not known for their leniency, adhering strictly to the letter of the law. To his astonishment, Joseph is asked to defend the men, and he fears he will let them down. If he fails, they face execution as traitors, and someone very close to Joseph may face a similar fate for helping them escape.
This is the fourth book in Perry's World War I series, with one more, WE SHALL NOT SLEEP, being released at the same time. I believe this is some of her finest and certainly most heart-felt work.
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