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a novel of World War I

By Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, Sept. 2003
ISBN: 0-345-45652-1

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

In a departure from her two Victorian series, Perry has written an engrossing story of espionage, heroism, betrayal, and family ties, set in England on the eve of the first world war. The main hero of the story, Joseph Reavley, was inspired by Perry's maternal grandfather, who was a chaplain during that war.

The story begins in Cambridge, on a fine June day in 1914. Joseph Reavley, a Cambridge professor of Biblical languages, is called away from a cricket match by his brother Matthew, a member of the Secret Intelligence Service. Matthew brings the devastating news that their parents have been killed in a car crash. He tells Joseph that their father had called him the previous evening to say he had obtained "a document outlining a conspiracy so hideous it would change the world we know; that it would ruin England and everything we stand for. Forever." Matthew has no idea what the document said, and he and Joseph are unable to locate it. It soon becomes obvious that there are others seeking the document for unknown purposes, and the brothers must try to locate it first and decide what to do with the information.

Adding to his burden, one of Joseph's most promising students, Sebastian Allard, dies under mysterious circumstances at the college. Joseph attempts to discover who was responsible for the death of this popular and brilliant young man, uncovering disturbing secrets about friends and colleagues in the process.

This is the first in a series of five novels featuring the Reavley family from 1914-1918. The novels will portray the effects of the war on society through the eyes of Joseph, Matthew, and their sisters Hannah, a homebody, and Judith, a free spirit who drives an ambulance on the front lines. To my mind, this is the best work Perry has done in quite some time.

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