The Calculations of Rational Men by Daniel Godfrey

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The Calculations of Rational Men by Daniel Godfrey

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The United Kingdon has been targeted in a widespread nuclear attack. The inmates of HMP Queen's Bench - all 500 of them - are in a single nuclear shelter, with limited food and water. How will they cope? An excellent, highly-recommended read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 390 Date: August 2022
Publisher: #
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-Independently published.

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It's the 10th of December 1962 when we first meet Dr Joseph Marr. Just to put what happens in context, the Cuban missile crisis is still very fresh in people's minds. The world has barely had a chance to breathe out. But for Joe Marr, it's not the missile crisis that's at the front of his mind. He's been convicted of murder. With the current state of medical knowledge, it's hard to think otherwise than that the prosecution would never have been brought but Joe Marr has spent his first few days in HMP Queen's Bench, a relatively new prison. He's just getting used to his roommate, Mervyn, and learning to be wary of the McArthur brothers.

The title of the book comes from a speech by President Jack Kennedy in 1961 when he said that a nuclear war - or stopping short of such a war - would be decided by rational men. The political climate in 2022 makes you wonder if all the players are rational and in The Calculations of Rational Men the United Kingdom has been targeted in a widespread nuclear attack. Major cities will have been vapourised and the five hundred inhabitants of HMP Queen's Bench have been hurried into a shelter beneath the prison. Chief Warden Otley is there, along with Governor Crabb but the man in charge is Captain Bertie Lyle from the army. He's not in the best of health but he manages to retain command. Dr Marr comes into his own as there's no one to take care of the health of the men - and he's the only one qualified to do the work. He's not trusted by the warders - he's a murderer - or by the prisoners who see him as having 'gone over to the other side'.

It's difficult to overstate the effects of having 500 men in a confined space. There's only limited water and the food amounts to about 700 calories a day. It's barely enough to sustain life and any physical effort could result in hunger and dehydration. There are ten rooms, each housing fifty men and the sanitary arrangements are extremely basic. There isn't sufficient water for washing. Hard decisions have to be taken. It's an entirely different level of incarceration, mainly based on containment.

We look at what happened through different eyes, too. In 2017, Enola Thomson has discovered that one set of grandparents and her mother were German. She's intent on finding out all that she can about them but her movements are limited by her worry about a nuclear strike. Korea has been sabre rattling and a missile has been fired across Japan and into the sea. She's keen not to get too far from her home in Penrith - and the nuclear shelter where she spends most of her time. With a name like Enola (I still see it written on the side of a plane in italic script) fear of a nuclear strike is never far from your mind. But there's another problem: the people she contacts for help in finding out about her family all seem to die in mysterious accidents. And she can't find out anything about Dr Joseph Marr.

Oh, but this was a superb read. What began as a story about how a lot of men cope in close confinement rapidly turned into a more wide-ranging and thought-provoking study about the after-effects of a thermonuclear strike. Is the investment in shelters worthwhile when it's likely that everyone is going to die? Given the likelihood of nuclear winter, is there any point in trying to survive when there's no way of producing food or finding unpolluted water?

The characters are superb. Days after I finished reading they're still fresh in my mind. They're overwhelmingly male and normally I'd find this off-putting but I didn't even think about it until long after I'd finished reading. The plot is, of course, superb and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

I know before I started reading that Daniel Godfrey is a first-class author. If you'd like to read more from him, try New Pompeii and go on from there.

Booklists.jpg The Calculations of Rational Men by Daniel Godfrey is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2022.

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