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The First Casualty

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  5,581 ratings  ·  341 reviews
Flanders, June 1917: a British officer and celebrated poet, is shot dead, killed not by German fire, but while recuperating from shell shock well behind the lines. A young English soldier is arrested and, although he protests his innocence, charged with his murder.

Douglas Kingsley is a conscientious objector, previously a detective with the London police, now imprisoned fo
Paperback, 444 pages
Published May 3rd 2006 by Black Swan (first published 2005)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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 ·  5,581 ratings  ·  341 reviews

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Mar 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery, wwi-era-lit
Nowhere near as mind-blowingly awesome as Elton's Blackadder Goes Fourth, The First Casualty remains an interesting addition to the field of contemporary WWI fiction.

Part murder mystery, part thinly veiled Siegfried Sassoon (or is it Wilfred Owen?) lovefest, The First Casualty takes a conscientious objector, Inspector Douglas Kingsley of Scotland Yard, and plunks him down in Flanders to investigate the murder of a famous poet-soldier-anti-war agitator.

The book is slick (but maybe a little too sl
Nov 29, 2013 rated it did not like it
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This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ben Elton's best work... and it's not satire of dark comedy!
How about a military police investigation taking place on the Ypres frontline in 1917, during the First World War!!! On top of that ingenious scenario Elton holds nothing back on the utter senselessness of war, gender inequality and Suffragettes, the treatment of homosexuality, class distinctions, British Bolsheviks, conscientious objectors, the Irish uprising, the penal system etc,... and still puts together a highly engrossing myster
Stuart McIntosh
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another great read from Ben Elton - who knew?
Researches his topic and the period so well. Learn a lot about a lot. Not just a whodunnit.
Hilary G
Dec 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
My second Ben Elton and while it was better than the first book I read - Blind Faith - it isn't saying much as Blind Faith was a mere '2 Star' read for me. This was not a bad book, but I thought that it could have been done better, given the interesting premise.

Douglas Kingsley is a stubborn idealist (not a pacifist, mind you) who works as a policeman in World War-I era Britain. And alike all egoistical idealists, he denies to participate in the war even though that means his family would also h
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Ben Elton is a brilliant story teller. This book is set in 1917 and concerns a conscientious objector policeman who is sent to Flanders to investigate a murder. Some of the battle scenes are very graphic but do show how life must have been in the trenches.
Julia Hughes
Aug 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: satire-ww1-war, war
The First Casualty of War is of course truth: with hindsight it is easy to label WW1 futile and lament the loss of A 'Golden Generation' At the time anyone who spoke out against the senseless carnage risked imprisonment, or social obvilion at the least. and so having defended himself in court, explaining why he refuses to climb into a uniform and shot some hapless German citizen whose government is also urging him to kill Brits & their allies by whipping up the same propaganda, our hero finds hi ...more
John Kirk
Given the author and the setting, it's obvious to compare this book to "Blackadder Goes Forth". However, it really has a lot more in common with "Charley's War". It's not a comedy, and the plot is a bit thin: the point of the book is to describe what conditions were like during the Great War. I think it succeeds, so it's worth reading.

As an example, the book mentions Field Punishment Number 1, where a soldier would be tied to a wheel (spreadeagled) and left there all day. I remember that from "C
Tariq Mahmood
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Reading this page turner made me realize just how much of the British current collective psyche has been influenced by the two Great Wars. The protagonist's moral awakening, to his one man revolutionary crusade failure; his abject realization of failure during incarceration; his rebirth after his rescue to his voluntary participation on the Flanders front completes the formation of British psyche in the Industrial age.

Elton's assertion that 'Compromises a man has to make with misery and injusti
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Without giving too much away this is set during the first world war 1917 the main character is s Police Inspector currently serving in the Metropolitan Police considered to be the best Detective in the force, however he has been called up to serve his country, but being a conscientious objector refuses to enlist, and after a trial is sent to Wandsworth prison for two years, however a murder has occurred at the front, which the Army tried to cover up, so the case requires investigation, so who do ...more
Phil Altimas
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ben-elton
I was never a fan of Ben Elton as a comedian, it was all Thatcher stole my milk etc
and when I saw this book on Amazon for .99p I was in two minds

well, I am glad I went and ordered it, what an amazing book. it has everything I wanted as a reader
a great pacey plot, great storyline, great characters and its a great wh done it !

its set in WW1, you have a famous Detective on trial for being a conscientious objector. you have a world-famous poet, who is also a viscount and serving in the somme and a
A solid 3.5 stars. This is the 1st book by Ben Elton they I have read and I enjoyed it. It’s effectively a murder mystery but set in WW1 and investigated undercover in the trenches.
Jacquie South
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As always, Ben Elton tackles ideas and situations in a new and different sort of way - I always enjoys his take on history. Good characters and good storyline.
A different read . I studied war poetry at college , so some memories of the poetry came back from about 26 years ago!
Franco Forleo
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My first Ben Elton read... which I thoroughly enjoyed. Historical fiction at its best.
Nov 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
Casualty just about sums up this novel. In fact, even the title is a misnomer – yes there are several casualties, but quite how one can claim this is the first casualty when the novel is set in 1917, is quite beyond me. The premise itself is quite an interesting one : a former policeman, who has refused to fight for intellectual/moral reasons, is then forced onto the front line in order to investigate the murder of not merely a Viscount, but an individual considered to be one of the great War he ...more
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 19, 2022 rated it liked it
I usually love Elton and had the highest of hopes for this book and I do understand that this isn't the genre of book where humour will naturally flow but it is a hard read and the characters don't seem as well rounded and finished as his normally do. That said it's not a bad read or a bad story, it just isn't his usual high level ...more
Bert van der Vaart
Jul 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Ben Elton is an engaging writer and clearly not unintelligent. He does come up with interesting situations/contexts, and I liked Dead Famous and, despite the patently unrealistic premise, Time and Time Again. In The First Casualty, he is at it again with an interesting premise; however, I found his great scenes in the trenches and description of how pointless WWI was (certainly form the wet and miserable trenches in Flanders) to just barely offset the unrealism of how the protagonist gets convic ...more
Steve Mitchell
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Ben Elton started off writing novels set in a dystopian future, then they became contemporary and this is his first bash at an historical novel; and it is not a bad stab. Basically this is a detective story set against the backdrop of the Great War, but it also deals with the horror of conflict, the class system and the crisis of conscience over where to draw the line of morality. As you would expect from Elton, there is a little bit of politics in there; actually, one of the themes is the class ...more
Rob Powell
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Another great book by Ben Elton.
Meg Barber
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really excellent

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, especially the flawed and sterling hero. He is like a dog with a bone as he follows his enquiry, just as all really good detectives should be, but in this investigation, to an extraordinary extent. But his behaviour is no more unusual than everything that is going on around him. The whole story is wonderfully researched, and nothing I read was out of step with what, to a lesser extent, I believe I know about WW1. It is intellectually first class. I
Lillith F
Mar 07, 2021 rated it did not like it
I have a question for Ben Elton. Genuinely, was this actually meant to be a parody or was I actually meant to take half of this absolutely farcical depiction of war seriously?
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Ben Elton finds that sweet spot of tension between honor and integrity and rings it like a gong. What happens to a man when committing to his own integrity and to truth is dishonorable? When his integrity costs him all he values - his profession, his reputation, his wife and child... yet makes him the solution to resolving a dangerous situation after a famous soldier, critically important to the war effort, is murdered.

The environment of the first world war is depicted skillfully and faithfully.
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
I would have given it one star because the terrible writing reached a point where it just all became hilarious, so at least I was kept entertained. One-dimensional characters, absolutely horrible dialogues and uninteresting plot.
Anne Matheson
I've read this book before and I really like it. Such a good plot and it moves at a great pace. It's the story of a man who has the courage of his convictions - a very good thing in a policeman, perhaps less so in a husband. If you only read one first world war novel, perhaps this should be it. ...more
Richard Weatherburn
Quite enjoyed this - parts of the narrative seem based on other well known WW1 books. Interesting story line that I didn't guess the outcome of until about 3/4 of the way through. ...more
Feb 07, 2016 added it
I thought that it was going to be another one of those boring books you had to read for school but in the end i actually enjoyed it :)
Jan 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is certainly a change of direction Ben Elton.
I was pleased for Elton that he is able to mute his very distinctive comic voice and let the story tell itself. Well, most of the time. There were only a few passages that screamed ‘Ben Elton’, where you could picture him regaling an audience with the text as an anecdote. One such example had me laughing out loud. The main character is amongst a group of foot soldiers who are discussing how the war began:
‘The question I always asks is, why did a
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Ben Elton was born on 3 May 1959, in Catford, South London. The youngest of four, he went to Godalming Grammar school, joined amateur dramatic societies and wrote his first play at 15. He wanted to be a stagehand at the local theatre, but instead did A-Level Theatre Studies and studied drama at Manchester University in 1977.

His career as both performer and writer encompasses some of the most memo

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