Reddleman's Reviews > The First Casualty

The First Casualty by Ben Elton
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Apr 07, 11

bookshelves: english, novel
Read in August, 2010

Reading Ben Elton's The First Casualty is a like a knife going through soft butter, but with the atrocities of the Great War in the back of my mind it didn't taste very well.

Douglas Kingsley is sent to the front in the Great War to investigate the murder of an officer and finds out that investigating a murder in such a bloody war is almost idiotic. So far so good. But it all starts with Kingley's intellect. The story is full of his great intellect, but while Elton only makes him cheeky and bold he never shows any of Kingsley's intellect at all. I also got the feeling that Kingsley is a character from the future who knows everything about the madness of the Great War and judges his contemporaries with this knowledge.

The hatred towards his refusal to fight in the war is not very convincing. He is treated as the disgrace of England, a pariah, by the judge, the public, the wardens and his cell mates. Of course many of them also hated Kingsley because he put them in prison, but many loath him for not fighting in the war. There was disgust for war refusers in those days, but Elton brings it over the top.

The novel turns into a kind of hilarious fantasy story when Kingsley goes to the front line thrice. He confronts German machine guns, fights in German trenches, gets shelled in a bombardment and gets out without too much damage. These heroic deeds were done merely to find the murder weapon (first run), speak to a witness (second run) and speak to an officer (third run). Of course everybody surrounding the detective is turned into jelly, stabbed, shot or drowns in the mud.

Also the ending is like an episode of Murder She Wrote. We all get to know the truth, the murderer confesses and the case is closed. It would have been better to let the truth sink into the mud like the truth about the Great War, in which so many people needlessly died for politics showing off.
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