The Constant Soldier by William Ryan
|The Constant Soldier by William Ryan|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A touching, multi-layered tale about conscience and settling debts in Germany during the dying days of WWII. This crosses the gender divide mixing love with the barbaric zeitgeist as the Russians approach.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: August 2016|
|External links: Author's website|
Paul Brandt returns home to his village without the arm he left at the Russian Front in defence of Germany. The village looks pretty much the same as he left it, with the exception of the lack of young men and a new building. His home now boasts an SS rest hut, providing officers with entertainment and respite breaks from the fighting. As Paul passes the hut for the first time, he sees something… or rather someone… that will make him return to work for those he despises. The subject of his decision? A girl he once got into trouble with under different circumstances – before she wore the stripes of a concentration camp prisoner.
This is Irish author William Ryan's fourth book. His previous three featuring pre-WWII Russian detective, Captain Korolev garnered quite an award list between them including a CWA Dagger and two Crime Novel of the Year accolades (Ireland's and Theakston's). I have a feeling that The Constant Soldier will be equally regaled and rightly so.
With this story William moves us on from Korolev's time, towards the end of the war through the eyes of a German soldier who has indeed seen – and suffered – much. Paul Brandt is definitely battle weary and disillusioned. Not that, having been forced to join the army, he was ever illusioned in the first place. The reason for this enlisting is one of the many effective page turning drip feeds that entice us into this man of initial mystery. Gradually we learn more and the story becomes a historical thriller with equal emphasis on both the history and the thrills.
Actually this is billed as a love story but that mis-sells it a little. Ok, love and conscience may drive Paul's actions and therefore the main storyline. However there is no time for amorous mooning or the other trappings of romance so there's nothing to put off anyone who may live in fear of drippy lovey-dovey stuff diluting an excellent story.
At the SS rest house we meet the full plethora of Nazi beliefs. Neumann, one of the SS officers directing the operation, may be in Hitler's crack regiment but he's haunted by a past event that went wrong. The Commandant looks out for him but Neumann's nightmares and cynicism are his disturbed, lingering legacy.
At the other end of the scale, the village's temperamental local mayor embraces the cause totally resulting in the fear and loathing that follow him around the village as much as it does among the POW slave labour in the rest hut.
There are four women POWs servicing the hut and its inhabitants through whom William allows us to witness the psychology of those tortured, ridiculed, starved and mistreated for the Fuhrer. Two of them (former Bible students) are trusted by the SS guests and staff since they're faith bound to adhere to the 10 Commandments and New Testament teachings no matter what's done to them in return.
These prisoners (including a fourth – a political prisoner we'll come to know very well) have learnt not to show or even to trust their feelings. This makes Paul's ultimate aims even harder to fulfil.
The climactic chapters become almost too exciting to bear at times as Paul's aims mix with the Russians' approach (clever use of Russian point of view by the way) and the Nazis' ridiculous defence. We know how we'd like it to work out but this mirrors real life and real life can go in any direction.
Talking of real life, the final few pages seem to deviate from reality a little (no spoilers!) and so in some ways seems unnecessary. However, we're only talking a miniscule proportion so definitely not enough to derail the rest of William's superlative writing from anything but 5*. In fact this is a great read: a gritty, action-packed novel graphically shows what war can do to people, whatever side they find themselves on.
(Thank you so much Mantle for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you'd like to go on to read a tale of Germany and the mopping up operation just after WWII armistice, we heartily recommend The Soldier's Story by Bryan Forbes. If you'd prefer to go down non-fiction route to discover more about Hitler's SS, then we just as heartily suggest the biographical The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My SS Grandfather's Secret Past and How Hitler Seduced a Generation by Martin Davidson
You can read more book reviews or buy The Constant Soldier by William Ryan at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Constant Soldier by William Ryan at Amazon.com.
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