The Lost Soldier by Diney Costeloe

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The Lost Soldier by Diney Costeloe

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A two-era story where the modern tale isn't as effective as the wartime. However the WWI sections are so compelling and well-written they make an otherwise ok read so much more.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1784972578

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Rachel is a journalist covering a local conflict between a land developer and the small village community of Charlton Ambrose. The developer wants to level Ashgrove, a group of nine trees planted to commemorate those in the village who died serving in World War I. As she investigates, Rachel realises that only eight of the trees have corresponding names of the fallen. The ninth is for a mysterious unknown soldier. Why unknown? Rachel is determined to discover his story and, in so doing, she also discovers part of her own.

It always made sense for Diney Costeloe to become an author. Although Diney may be a teacher by training, she's the daughter of a publisher and so was surrounded with words and the encouragement to express them from an early age.

Lately Diney has been writing novels she describes as 'modern historicals', going back into the 20th century for her settings and subjects. This is a description that doubly suits The Lost Soldier and its twin narratives, one modern and one historical.

The twin narrative works via a 21st century tale of Rachel's investigation vying with the emanating revelations, allowing us to follow Sarah and her servant Molly to the French front in 1915. The two stories definitely fight for our attention and, for me, the latter fascinating, touching story of the two trainee nurses and their connections to a British 'pals' regiment wins hands down.

Rachel's story comes across as being a vehicle for the latter tale. In the modern day setting we may be able to spot most of the twists before Rachel does, but I was happy to jog along. However, once Sarah and Molly's story got into its stride, I desperately wanted to stay rather than return to 2001.

There's nothing new in the World War I side of the story for those of us who have been immersed in it during the centennial. We may even guess why the ninth tree is unnamed and, in 20th century locals' eyes, unwarranted. What makes this so compelling is that Diney transfers the times and events from history books into something more 3D that comes alive in our imagination.

We are transported from the world of romance and a couple of very convenient 21st century coincidences to a past that feels more authentic. Diney conveys the emotion and exhaustion inculcated in caring for battle-bloodied and mind-scarred solders behind the British lines in Europe. We also cringe at the constricting morals of the era as well as the regulations that govern a nursing order of nuns and their civilian volunteers. We don't just have the narrator's help with this but also Molly's diary entries at key moments.

For Molly this world is a different living hell from the one she escaped at home. While for Lady Sarah, it provides her with a reason for living that surpasses the confined expectations of her father.

I won't spoil the tree dedication background for anyone who doesn't guess. I'll just say that even when the revelation is expected, the circumstances are a massive shock. I could feel my stomach sink and my throat lump to the extent that even the 21st century ending couldn't remedy.

If Molly and Sarah had the run of the whole novel, this would be a straight 5*. As it is, poor Rachel may be a little superfluous, but she kick-starts a book that's a riveting read, vividly highlighting a chapter of shameful injustice in Britain's past.

(Thank you, Head of Zeus for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you'd like to read more of Diney's work, we recommend your next step is towards The Throwaway Children. If you'd like to read more stories surrounding the First World War, ignore the children's fiction tag, Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful is a breathtaking masterpiece. If you prefer a family saga, Goodbye Piccadilly by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is the first of a series taking us through the war year by year.

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Buy The Lost Soldier by Diney Costeloe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lost Soldier by Diney Costeloe at


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