About the Book
1919. On the desolate battlefields of northern France, the guns of the Great War are silent. Special battalions now face the dangerous task of gathering up the dead for mass burial.
Captain Mackenzie, a survivor of the war, cannot yet bring himself to go home. First he must see that his fallen comrades are recovered and laid to rest. His task is upended when a gruesome discovery is made beneath the ruins of a German strongpoint.
Amy Vanneck’s fiance is one soldier lost amongst many, but she cannot accept that his body may never be found. She heads to France, determined to discover what became of the man she loved.
It soon becomes clear that what Mackenzie has uncovered is a war crime of inhuman savagery. As the dark truth leaches out, both he and Amy are drawn into the hunt for a psychopath, one for whom the atrocity at Two Storm Wood is not an end, but a beginning.
Format: Hardcover (368 pages) Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 13th January 2022 Genre: Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery
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Two Storm Wood is billed as a historical thriller and whilst there is certainly a thriller element to it, it wasn’t the most compelling aspect of the book for me. In fact, I guessed a key part of the plot pretty early on thanks to some detail in the prologue.
For me, the key strength of the book was how it revealed the ‘debris’ of war, whether that’s material debris, such as abandoned military equipment or bombed out buildings, human debris such as the bodies (or remains of bodies) of fallen soldiers like those Captain Mackenzie’s battalion is tasked with recovering and identifying, or physical debris in the form of the damaged and scarred bodies of those who survived but were terribly injured.
And then there’s the psychological debris: the survivors traumatised by what they witnessed and what they were forced to do. If you’ve never considered just what close combat, such as carrying out a silent raid on an enemy trench, involves in reality, Two Storm Wood will leave you under no illusions. ‘An enemy who chose the bayonet, the knife or the club was an enemy who had lost touch with self-interest, the calculating instinct for self-preservation, an enemy devoted to the collective cause, unafraid to die.’ As the book reveals, often only drugs could provide the necessary impulse to carry out orders, to blank out the dreadful memories or to provide the strength to endure days spent in endless watchfulness.
Amy Vanneck encapsulates the grief of those whose siblings, spouses or loved ones never came back or whose fate remained unknown. Perhaps unusally given the times, she travels alone to the heart of the now abandoned battlefields searching for the truth about how her fiancé Edward Haslam died, or if indeed he did. As she edges closer to the truth, it becomes increasingly clear that ‘War is a contest of violence, not virtue’ and the cruelty of what one human being can do to another knows no bounds.
With its vivid battle scenes, Two Storm Wood conjured up pictures in my mind that I’m not sure I want to recall in a hurry. The book powerfully, and at times graphically, illustrates that ‘War poisons everything that it does not destroy’. It also features one of the most evil and ruthless fictional characters I’ve come across in a long time, a key ingredient for a really absorbing thriller.
I received an advance review copy of Vintage via NetGalley.
In three words: Chilling, dark, immersive
Try something similar: The Glorious Dead by Tim Atkinson
About the Author
Philip Gray was inspired to write Two Storm Wood by his grandfather who fought in the First World War. (Photo credit: Author website)