Soldiers, Tom Remiger
Another from the more unexpected side of the 2021 Ngaio Marsh list, SOLDIERS is partially a story about the realities of war, from a soldier's perspective, partially a mystery about what happened to Corporal Daniel Cousins, but mostly a visceral, devastating personal story of one man, a love affair, his compassion and his pursuit of justice for his compatriot, at a time when injustice, threat and death abound.
Beautifully written, a war story built around an unsolved mystery, SOLDIERS has moments of moral ambiguity and trauma, doubt, and unimaginable loss. It's also got moments that are beautiful and uplifting. According to the blurb, is about what happens when we go to war, but it's a very different story from the normal nationalistic tales of bravery and sacrifice. Low-key and extremely intense, this is a story of a mystery, whether or not there's been a murder or accidental death, which is important, but unsurprisingly perhaps, about as important as everything else that is happening, in the lead up to the Battle of Crete - a defining moment in World War II.
Most importantly, what SOLDIERS does do is humanise a bunch of young men, sent to fight a long way from home, in battles that probably don't seem momentous in the sheer grind of day to day army life. The dirt, deprivation, daily terror, questionable people, moral and morale vacuums, friendships, and the loves. Dotted within the awfulness of the world of war there are moments of breathtaking beauty, and overwhelming sadness that really made this novel a challenge to read, but a worthwhile challenge overall.
Breen sometimes thought sourly that Tiger Jackson would have made a good fascist. He told unreliable stories, he liked power and admiration, and he had all three military virtues- self-belief, luck, and an eye for the main chance. Despite all this, Breen liked him. Somehow it was impossible not to.
After the death of Corporal Daniel Cousins in what is apparently a training accident, a young officer, Lieutenant Breen, becomes obsessed by the case. Was Cousins murdered by one of his own?
Breen's investigation, as well as his unanticipated love affair with a superior officer, threatens the unity of his comrades as they wait for the suffering to come in the Battle of Crete-one of the defining encounters of World War II.
Soldiers is about what happens to men who go to war. Tom Remiger's compelling first novel tells a story of intense feeling and unforeseen experience in a strange and distant world.