Rough Justice by Keith Watson

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Rough Justice by Keith Watson

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A lightly-fictionalised story of an apparent injustice dating from the nineteen fifties. There's a good plot and some convincing characters to hold the interest.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 340 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Authorhouse
ISBN: 978-1434328373

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It was March 1955 and a hundred British soldiers, many of them National Servicemen, had spent the previous week on manoeuvres in the snowy countryside of Austria. Exhausted, they rested in a barn whilst they waited for further orders. The barn was used to store hay and when fire broke out it quickly caught hold and four soldiers died; many more were seriously injured. The matter was dealt with by the army by holding a Military Court of Inquiry, whose proceedings remain secret and you've only got to read an excerpt from Hansard at the time to get the feeling that all was not being told. Author Keith Watson was one of the soldiers in the barn.

In this lightly fictionalised account of what happened, Corporal Lloyd Freeman fills us in on the background to the presence of the soldiers at Mattighofen and the heroic attempts of the Austrian fire fighters to bring the fire under control and rescue the men trapped inside. American helicopters ferried the injured to hospital and without this help many more lives would have been lost.

An officer admitted placing a battle simulator close to the barn to wake the exhausted men and initially it seemed that he accepted that this had been the cause of the fire. But - the Major was a popular man in the Mess and the honour of the regiment was at stake. With the survivors sworn to secrecy the Court of Inquiry investigated the cause of the fire and there was the unedifying sound of men hastily backtracking on what they had said at the time. When it seemed that the Major might get away with what he had apparently done, a veteran of the Korean War with his own grudge against the Major planned his revenge.

It's not an easy task for a first time author to take a real – and horrific – situation and weave a credible fictional story into it, but Keith Watson has managed it with style. He obviously feels deeply about what happened on that March day and the book could so easily have degenerated into a rant, but never does and the ending had me staying up late so that I could find out if the Major survived. The device of Corporal Freeman typing up the statements from the Court of Inquiry worked well and I'll gladly forgive the fact that the quotes from the evidence (obtained by the author from the Public Records Office) were occasionally a little too long for me.

Watson's particular skill lies in his descriptions of landscape but he still delivers a strong cast of convincing characters and an eminently readable plot. He captures the times too, particularly in the attitudes to smoking and the cavalier way in which the relatives of the dead and injured soldiers were treated. When I first looked at this book I thought that it would be primarily of interest to men but the story of such an apparent injustice has universal appeal and I'm grateful to the author for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For another, completely fictional, story about an apparent military cover up you might like to look at Playing With The Moon by Eliza Graham.

Buy Rough Justice by Keith Watson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rough Justice by Keith Watson at

Buy Rough Justice by Keith Watson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rough Justice by Keith Watson at


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