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WE SHALL NOT SLEEP
By Anne Perry
Ballantine, 2007 ($21.95 )
ISBN 10: 0-345-45660-2
ISBN 13: 978-0-345-45660-1
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
The title of this final volume in Perry's World War I series comes from probably the most famous poem of the war, In Flanders Field, by Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D., Canadian Army. The final lines are:
If you break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders Field
This is the fifth and final book in the World War I series featuring the Reavley family. The novels portray the effects of the war on society through the eyes of Joseph, an Army chaplain, Matthew, serving in the Secret Intelligence Service, and their sisters Hannah, a homebody whose husband is a naval officer, and Judith, a free spirit who drives an ambulance on the front lines.
It is October, 1918, and everyone knows peace is at hand. The battles still go on, and men continue to be maimed and killed, but the soldiers on both sides are weary. German soldiers are surrendering in droves, and some of them with serious injuries are being treated at the field station where Chaplain Joseph Reavley is stationed. Although some of the British troops are sympathetic to them, seeing them as not much different, others are incensed and want revenge for the deaths of their friends and relatives. Joseph is appalled to find that some of his soldiers are abusing the German prisoners. He and the rest of the camp are horrified when one of the nurses is savagely assaulted and murdered. Tensions between the British and German soldiers is heightened when each group suspects the other. Matthew comes to the camp on a highly secret mission, and is reunited with siblings Joseph and Judith. Matthew's mission, to find and bring back to England a German officer who is willing to reveal the identity of the Peace Maker and expose his plot to make an unholy alliance between the British and German government, is almost derailed when he is suspected of the nurse's murder. All three siblings have to work together to prove his innocence and carry out his mission.
The dreadful "War to end all wars" finally comes to a close, and the survivors face an uncertain future. The world they knew no longer exists, and they are unsure, after all they have seen and done in the last four years, if they will be able to adapt to the new order. A whole generation of young men has been wiped out, leaving many women without a husband. The role of women has changed - many had important and satisfying jobs while the men were away, and are reluctant to give up their newfound freedom, whether or not their men made it home. Class distinctions have blurred, as officers and men from the same village bonded on the battlefield and learned that there's not that much difference between them after all.
Did the Reavleys finally put a stop to the Peace Maker's nefarious plan? Or will the world fail to learn its lesson? Will the powers that be end up failing to keep faith with those who died in Flanders Field, and start the whole thing all over again? We know the answer to that question, but we can hope that Matthew, Joseph, Judith, and Hannah, and the others who were left to carry on were able to find some hope and happiness, if only for a short time.
This is an excellent series, well worth investing the time in reading. I would suggest spacing the books out, because there is a good bit of repetition on themes such as the endless misery of damp, vermin-filled trenches, the idea that no one who hasn't lived through the experience will ever understand what those who did went through, and the sadness about losing close friends and relatives, who are often blown apart in front of their eyes or die in their arms. Perry did a fine job of showing the Reavleys as complex, fully realized characters with the exception of Hannah. I would have liked to learn more about her life as the one who was left to keep the home fires burning, who had to worry about her husband on the sea and her young sons who couldn't wait to be old enough to join in the fight. These are small quibbles in a series that brings home the horror of war and the depravity and nobility, heroism and cowardice, of those involved in it.
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