#BookReview The Sunken Road by Ciarán McMenamin @VintageBooks

The Sunken Road PBAbout the Book

Annie, Francie and Archie were inseparable growing up, but in 1914 the boys are seduced by the drama of the Great War. Before leaving their small Irish village for the trenches, Francie promises his true love Annie that he will bring her little brother home safe.

Six years later Francie is on the run, a wanted man in the Irish war of Independence. He needs Annie’s help to escape safely across the border, but that means confronting the truth about why Archie never came back….

Format: Paperback (272 pages )          Publisher: Vintage
Publication date: 17th February 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The story unfolds in alternating chapters moving between the trenches of France in 1915/16 and Ireland in 1922 during the Irish War of Independence. I’ll admit the latter is not something I knew much about prior to reading this book. What I learned can perhaps be summed up by one character’s observation, ‘The North, the South, the British, the Specials, the Free State Army, the IRA. It’s a right fuckin’ mess up here’.

The author has an actor’s ear for dialogue and the rhythm of Irish speech. The book’s vivid, punchy language accentuates the black humour of Frankie and his comrades. Apart from drink, it’s their only shield against the memories of the terrible scenes they have witnessed and the senseless loss of life. The madness of war is exemplified by a trench raid which is hailed a success despite it yielding no results apart from the death of a highly regarded officer, awarded a posthumous DSO. ‘For conspicuous gallantry, in action… There is nothing conspicuous about him now. Apart from his fucking absence.’

The Sunken Road is not a book for the faint-hearted as it includes harrowing scenes depicting the realities of trench warfare in France and Belgium during the First World War. ‘There is a uniformity to men’s voices when they choke on their own blood while begging for their mother’s tit. A million shells from thousands of guns for hundred of hours.’ It is during his time serving with the British army that Frankie first encounters the man who will become his nemesis – a man who is a bully, a coward and a hypocrite.

It is only in the final chapters of the book that Annie – and the reader – discover the tragic circumstances surrounding Archie’s failure to return from the war. The author resists the temptation to end the book on an uplifting note (echoes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) although you could say that a kind of justice is served.

I thought the writing was superb and the characters of Frankie, Archie and Annie beautifully realized. There’s Archie, the gentle dreamer who believes it is his ‘destiny’ to liberate Europe, Frankie, the loyal friend tormented by guilt, and Annie, the feisty young woman torn between love and an unwillingness to forgive.  Although not an easy read, I found the book incredibly moving, immersive and utterly gripping.

The Sunken Road is the fifth book I’ve read from the thirteen books on the longlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2022 and it’s definitely up there with my favourite book so far, The Fortune Men.

In three words: Powerful, dark, gripping

Try something similar: Where God Does Not Walk by Luke McCallin

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Ciaran McMenaminAbout the Author

Ciaran McMenamin was born in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, in 1975. A graduate of the RSAMD, he has worked extensively for the past twenty years as an actor in film, television and theatre. His acclaimed first novel, Skintown, was a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick.

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#BlogTour #BookReview The Mirror Game by Guy Gardner @RandomTTours @BookGuild

The Mirror Game BT PosterWelcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Mirror Game by Guy Gardner. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to The Book Guild for my digital review copy.

The Mirror Game CoverAbout the Book

London 1925. When Adrian Harcourt, a politician and captain in the army believed dead with his company on the battlefield of Flanders, is sighted looking like he’s been living rough, Harry Lark, a war veteran and journalist, is enlisted by his friend and benefactor Lady Carlise to investigate.

As he becomes drawn further into the case and the deaths mount up, he can see that things don’t add up. Where has Adrian been for so many years? Why can’t he remember parts of his past?

Looking further into Adrian’s previous life, even as his own dark past and addiction to laudanum threatens to overwhelm him, Harry begins to fall for Lady Carlise’s beautiful daughter Freddy, who was also Adrian’s fiancé.

Chasing the leads as they continue to unravel, can Harry solve the mystery behind what really happened to Adrian before it’s too late?

Format: Paperback (296 pages)         Publisher: The Book Guild
Publication date: 28th January 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

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My Review

Reading the description of The Mirror Game suggests it has all the ingredients to make an enjoyable historical crime mystery – and it certainly succeeds on that score – but using the aftermath of the First World War as a backdrop to the story adds an additional element of interest, a darker tone if you like.

The lasting impact of the war is evident in many way, not just on those who survived or were injured but on the families of those who never returned or were reported missing in action. As Harry Lark says, ‘What did the hell did we expect to happen after it was over? We’d go on quietly living our lives, never minding the horror we were part of?’  Harry himself is a troubled man. He sustained physical injuries in the war which still cause him pain but it’s the mental scars more than anything that see him turn to laudanum to help him to forget the things he witnessed.

He finds a welcome new purpose in life when asked to investigate the mysterious reappearance of Adrian Harcourt after an absence of seven years. His journalistic instincts raise a series of questions in his mind. Why would someone who survived the war disappear and not return home? Where have they been for all that time? Why reappear now? What has caused the apparent change in them? I suspect I’m not the only reader to share Harry’s curiosity.

Harry makes a resourceful, resilient and feisty hero, and it soon becomes clear he will need all his wits about him (not to mention his fists) because the deeper he delves the more trouble seems to come his way – and anyone else he’s called upon for help. Why, he wonders, are people so anxious to stop him getting to the truth and what really happened in the battlefield incident during which Adrian Harcourt supposedly lost his life? Is there a cover-up aimed at hiding details of some atrocity or is something more sinister going on?

Alongside Harry’s investigation there’s a touching side story as he wrestles with his attraction to gifted musician Ferderica, the fiancé of the man he’s searching for. They seem simpatico but if he finds Adrian, won’t she want to pick up with him where they left off and what does Harry have to offer her anyway? When he looks in the mirror what does he see? A man fighting an addiction to laudanum, with no job and scarred by a previous relationship that ended in tragedy. Those who love a tortured hero will be urging Ferderica to go for it anyway – at least I was!

The plot moves along in double quick time and has more twists and turns than a corkscrew. Trust me, if you think you’ve got the solution to the mystery all worked out before the final pages you’ve probably got it wrong.

The Mirror Game is an extremely well-crafted, ingenious historical crime mystery. I don’t know if the author has more books featuring Harry Lark planned but I think he would make a great character to build a historical crime series around.

In three words: Intriguing, suspenseful, dramatic

Try something similar: Two Storm Wood by Philip Gray

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Guy Gardner Author PicAbout the Author

Guy Gardner is a professional jazz pianist, and has played both at home and around Europe in venues such as The National Theatre, Pizza Express Soho, the 02 and The Royal Albert Hall.

Having earned his degree in Music at Dartington College of Arts, he went on to gain a PGCE in teaching, which he used to teach in a prison for a time. Currently, he combines his writing with teaching piano in Dorset, where he lives with his wife, two young sons and dog.

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