#BookReview Where God Does Not Walk (Gregor Reinhardt #4) by Luke McCallin @noexitpress

Where God Does Not WalkAbout the Book

The Western Front, July 1918. Gregor Reinhardt is a young lieutenant in a stormtrooper battalion on the Western Front when one of his subordinates is accused of murdering a group of officers, and then subsequently trying to take his own life. Not wanting to believe his friend could have done what he is accused of, Reinhardt begins to investigate. He starts to uncover the outline of a conspiracy at the heart of the German army, a conspiracy aimed at ending the war on the terms of those who have a vested interest in a future for Germany that resembles her past.

The investigation takes him from the devastated front lines of the war, to the rarefied heights of Berlin society, and into the hospitals that treat those men who have been shattered by the stress and strain of the war. Along the way, Reinhardt comes to an awakening of the man he might be. A man freed of dogma, whose eyes have been painfully opened to the corruption and callousness all around him. A man to whom calls to duty, to devotion to the Fatherland and to the Kaiser, ring increasingly hollow…

Format: Hardcover (432 pages)            Publisher: Oldcastle Books
Publication date: 9th December 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller

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My Review

I’ve been a fan of this series ever since I read the The Man From Berlin in 2016. I then read, in quick succession, the next two in the series, The Pale House and The Ashes of Berlin. And that’s where, much to my disappointment, it seemed the adventures of Gregor Reinhardt might end. (I’ll admit to having developed a bit of a crush on Reinhardt by that time.) So you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn there was a new book on the way and that it was a prequel as I love a good prequel.

A prequel obviously presents both opportunities and challenges for an author. The main challenge is that the author can’t change what will happen in later, already written, books.  So it’s no spoiler to say the reader knows that, however dangerous the situations in which he finds himself – and they are often extremely dangerous – Reinhardt isn’t going to die in Where God Does Not Walk.  But, of course, he doesn’t know that and thanks to the skilful writing of the author, Reinhardt’s many dices with death don’t lose any of their impact, tension or excitement.

On the other hand, the main opportunity presented by a prequel is the ability to delve more deeply into the past of the main character, to explain the background to decisions or actions they may take in later books, and to fill in more of their back story.  Where God Does Not Walk does that in spades, taking the reader back to the First World War and introducing us to a young Gregor Reinhardt, only nineteen years old but already battle-hardened. From the off, he shows early signs of the intelligence, curiosity and, let’s face it, rather dismissive attitude to authority he displays in later books. However, what he also shows is a fierce loyalty towards the soldiers he commands, a strong sense of justice as well as a remarkable ability to survive the most perilous of situations.  I also loved the first appearance of small details, such as a watch, that readers who’ve read the previous books may recognise.

If you’ve ever wondered what it must have been like to serve in the frontline in the First World War then this book will leave you under no illusion that it was hell on earth. The descriptions of the result of artillery and machine gun fire on human bodies leave little to the imagination. In one memorable scene an appalled Reinhardt, looking around at the severely injured soldiers in a casualty clearing station, wonders at ‘such a butchery of men’. However, if anything, the most shocking thing is the seemingly casual attitude of those who put soldiers into situations where they know few will survive intact, if at all. ‘Men die in all kinds of ways, for all kinds of reasons. Some of them are avoidable. Some of them are accidental. Many of them are stupid. Many are unthinkable’. The book also explores the psychological effects of war, exposing some of the crude treatments inflicted on those suffering from what we would today recognise as post-traumatic stress.

It’s clear a massive amount of amount of research has gone into the book and from time to time I did find I needed to refer back to the list of characters at the beginning of the book to remind myself who was who and what position they occupied in the military hierarchy.

Of course, Where God Does Not Walk also incorporates an astonishingly complex mystery that had me perplexed for most of the time – as was Reinhardt too for a large proportion of the book.  As he becomes involved in the investigation of a series of gruesome murders, Reinhardt lurches from one violent confrontation to another as he attempts, in any way he can, to tease the truth from those reluctant, or too afraid, to reveal it. As hints of a conspiracy emerge that may involve some in the highest level of the country’s institutions, there are also signs of a nascent anti-Semitism.

If you’re new to the series, Where God Does Not Walk is the perfect place to start, although I warn you you’ll probably be adding the other books to your wishlist by the time you finish it.  And it gets better because the author promises us this is just the start of a new cycle of books taking Reinhardt from where we leave him in this book up to the point we meet him in The Man From Berlin.

Where God Does Not Walk is both a complex thriller and a stark and, at times, unflinching exposition of what it was like in the frontline during the First World War. As one character observes, ‘No man survives a war and is the same man he was at its beginning’. Welcome back, Reinhardt.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of No Exit Press via NetGalley.

In three words: Dark, intense, compelling

Try something similarTwo Storm Wood by Philip Gray

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LukeMcCallinAbout the Author

Luke McCallin was born in Oxford, grew up around the world and has worked with the United Nations as a humanitarian relief worker and peacekeeper in the Caucasus, the Sahel, and the Balkans. His experiences have driven his writing, in which he explores what happens to normal people – those stricken by conflict, by disaster – when they are put under abnormal pressures. (Photo/bio: Goodreads author page)

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#BookReview Two Storm Wood by Philip Gray @vintagebooks

Two Storm WoodAbout 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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My Review

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 similarThe Glorious Dead by Tim Atkinson

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Philip GrayAbout 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)

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