The First Casualty

The First CasualtyBen Elton is a clever man.That s the whole plot of this book Ben Elton is a clever man, and his main character is a thinly disguised Ben Elton wish fulfillment fantasy.WATCH As Ben Elton explains to a court of law why he s too clever to fight in WW1, using the sort of arguments that historians don t put together until the thirties.GASP As Ben Elton, despite being too clever to fight in WW1 becomes a better soldier than the bastard child of Captain America and Leonidas of Sparta.GRIMACE As Ben Elton has cringeworthy sex with a Suffragette whose only character traits are hating everything Ben Elton proxy stands for Obviously she ll fall in love with him Because obviously.WINCE As Ben Elton proves clever enough to solve a mystery that he didn t bother giving you any of the clues to.YAWN As Ben Elton puts together a happy return to the status quo ending that you ll find it hard to care about.Or, don t bother You should conscientiously object to this book. 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 injustice simply to muddle through, very nicely captures the stark choices in front of the British population facing the Germans in the First Great War Was the war just Was the excessive bloodshed necessary How long should we fight and to what end But most of all, the British population s trust in their political establishment was very high back then as compared to the current level of trust which must be rock bottom, if we consider the result of Brexit I think the high level of confidence and moral exhibited by the British in the First Great War was due to the many colonial wins over lesser armies in the non European encounters The level of patriotism and zeal is definatley taken a nosedive following the two great wars and loss of the Empire. 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. 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 himself in Wormwood Scrubs prison Only the fact that he is probably the best detective in the UK and the authorities need him to solve the most unusual murder of a golden boy saves him from being shot while trying to escape The Golden Captain was a man who is not only a war hero, but also one of the most popular war poets with his Honey Still for Tea type poems There isn t a hint of Blackadder humour in this book There are several terribly grim scenes, for example where a soldier misses his footing and disappears in a sea of mud never to be seen again Our hero branded the most cowardly man in Britain time after time shows true courage, as he works against time to solve the crime before all the witnesses and the possible killer are slaughtered on the Flanders fields The very best of Ben Elton s novels. 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 heroes This could have made for a brilliant novel that examined the intrigues and the morally dubious nature of those leading the charge Moreover, given Elton s involvement in the writing of Blackadder I had high hopes that he would deal sensitively with the tragic nature of war balancing the stark horrors of the trenches with lighter moments and insights into those who had failed to protect their own men Sadly, I was utterly mistaken.So where did Elton go so wrong My first problem is with the central character he refuses for intellectual reasons to join in the war effort claiming that he does not comprehend the logical reason for fighting on this scale Fair enough and the manner in which he is treated and imprisoned was an interesting insight into the attitude towards conscientious objectors in this era something rarely dealt with in modern war literature However, this same individual is prepared on multiple occasions to behave in an underhand and immoral fashion often acting on instinct rather than thinking intellectually or logically His decisions often simply did not make sense It was evident that Elton was trying to create a new detective figure in the mould of Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, piecing together the evidence that the reader was unable to spot or INDEED those around the lead investigator to come to a seemingly impossible discovery of the truth The problem with this is that unlike in cases such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or The Hound of the Baskervilles , the murderer was bloody obvious from the start.My second issue was with Elton s treatment of women this really was a case of a presentation of the angel in the house, the wife patiently waiting and adoringly welcoming her husband home regardless of his shenanigans and the whore in the field hospital Thus the presentation of women, many of whom suffered greatly to the loss of their men during the First World War and many of whom risked their lives in field hospitals, was at best shoddy and at worst, utterly misogynistic view spoiler Spoiler alert now perhaps Mr Elton has not been around many women However, let me assure him that anyone who has been raped, not that I ve ever suffered this terrible misfortune , is very unlikely to merely a week later throw herself into bed with another man Nor is the sex scene that ensues likely to resemble something from a Carry On film Let me give you n an example Golly That is a big one, isn t it Or perhaps I am a bad girl, aren t I Or worse still, the woman s utterance of gosh, golly Tally Ho during sex itself Perhaps this is Mr Elton s idea of humour it fails Nought to be honest, is his treatment of the suffering of the men on the front line any better On the rare occasions when our protagonists actually make it to the front Elton appears to have the need to throttle us with grotesque detail simply in order to prove how terrible the war was Perhaps he needs to read novels that deal with this in a far subtle and evocative way The description, for example, of hacking a German courts to pieces or placing your hand in the earth to find it actually embedded in maggoty flesh is entirely unnecessary nor is it effective given the lack of buildup We have no investments in these dead bodies and thus there is no sense of the tragedy that this war truly was and the violence merely becomes gratuitous hide spoiler 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 for.99p I was in two mindswell, I am glad I went and ordered it, what an amazing book it has everything I wanted as a readera 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 murder it s a great mix and it kept me enthralled Read it in two sessions over one day and I was not sure who did it until the very end.this wont be the last Ben Elton book i read Ex Bookworm group review I have always liked Ben Elton I think he is a funny and intelligent man But I did not like this.The main problem for me was that Elton just couldn t decide what the book should be It certainly wasn t a novel of suspense After all, it took at least half the book to even get the policeman to the scene of the crime It wasn t really a whodunnit because the clues weren t there for us to work out Mind you, I always thought Shannon had done it simply because he was so obviously the baddie It tried to be a detective story All the talk of logic was very reminiscent of Poirot s little grey cells , as was Kingsley s telegram I intend shortly to produce your murderer Please advise all interested, and there was actually a reference to Sherlock Holmes, but the only person present for the dramatic denouement was the murderer Kingsley couldn t have all those involved in the story sitting in armchairs agog to hear how clever he was like Poirot would, like Sherlock Holmes would because the were all dead Kitty the Suffragette was there as well, but she doesn t count, being nothing but a cardboard cutout later.So what was The First Casualty Was it a morality play or a modern Aesop s fable Maybe There was a good bit about one death mattering amid so many deaths and it being important to establish the truth and maintain a sense of right and wrong which I agree with but this was interjected into the story with all the subtlety of a Sunday soap box monologue at Hyde Park Corner Anyway, what happened at the end made a travesty of it Truth and justice have to matter all the time, not just when it is convenient Finally, was it a political novel Should I have been delighted that Ben Elton created a strong woman who meets men on equal terms Well, pardon me, but I wasn t delighted because in the end he copped out Kitty the Suffragette wasn t just enjoying sex with a likely looking bloke who happened by, but had to fall in love Typical male point of view It also undermined the morality tale a bit to have a bloke risking life and limb to have a last look at the wife he adores one minute and having a suffragette shag in a wood the next.I don t think I ve ever read a modern novel with so many needs musts in it It s also been a very long time since I read the words straining manhood I expect that was in a bodice ripper I hope it will be a long time before I see it again The language struck me as odd overall I wasn t sure but I thought the slang may be anachronistic, but maybe they did use the c word constantly throughout the First World War.The depiction of Lloyd George was laughable I have heard a recording of Lloyd George s actual speaking voice, and he barely sounded Welsh, like received pronunciation I doubt very much whether he ever called anyone boyo If you are going to have real people as characters in your book, you at least owe them the courtesy of finding out a little bit about them.There were some bits of the book that were entertaining, not least the discussion on the train to Ypres about the causes of the First World War I thought the concept of men trying not to funk it or let the side down was terribly poignant and rang very true As for the rest of the detail about trench warfare, the graphic descriptions of wounds and the pure hokum of Kingsley s escapades at the front seemed very false, as unlikely to have been written by anyone who had experienced what he was describing as Abercrombie s poems having been written by Stamford.I did get to the end of the book but it was a struggle I think Ben Elton should stick to writing comedy. Given the author and the setting, it s obvious to compare this book to Blackadder Goes Forth However, it really has a lot 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 Charley s War , and they mentioned a couple of problems if your nose itches then you can t scratch it, and you re helpless if the area gets shelled However, this book went into a bit detail flies would crawl over the men s faces, and they wouldn t be able to swat them away view spoiler According to the back cover, this is a murder mystery, although it takes about 200 pages to get to that point It starts out with the protagonist Kingsley on trial because he refused conscription Unfortunately, it doesn t show any of the events leading up to that point Since he was a police inspector, wouldn t that be one of the reserved occupations I assume that the police weren t all conscripted, or replaced by seriously injured veterans Similarly, Kingsley later agrees to take on a role as an MP, so he ll still be a policeman in a different environment Couldn t he have done that before Did nobody offer that to him before it all went to trial Looking at superhero comics, I think this might have worked better as a shared universe story The first story would involve Kingsley s conscription papers and his decision to resist, then end with him in prison The second story would involve a murder, where they pull in an existing character from the first story to investigate That way, they can get moving on the second story as quickly as possible, without having to spend time on his backstory, and it wouldn t feel so contrived One of the characters in the novel even makes a comment along the lines of If you didn t exist then we would have had to create you hide spoiler 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 have to face the consequences of his rather hypocritical stand against something he did anyway in his previous life killing He was a policeman after all, and admits himself that had sent quiet a few criminals to their death while working for the government and even had done some things that he didn t like He denies to participate in the war as the sheer scale was too big to ignore Didn t I say he was a hypocrite So, after having been disgraced nationally and sent to prison, Kingsley dreads that he might be murdered in prison by one of the fellow prisoners he arrested when he was a policeman.But then something amazing happens An officer cum a famous poet is killed in Ypres Not by enemy fire But in a hospital by a fellow Briton Thus under special circumstances, Kingsley is sent to the front to investigate the murder The premise sounds interesting enough, doesn t it But my problem with the book was that that Elton lingered too much on the disgrace aspect of Kingsley s life in Britain after his denial to participate in the war and hence took a very long time than half of the book to actually advance the main plot of the story And even when Kingsley reached the battlefront in France, the book failed to recapture wholly the sheer horror faced by the men in the Great War.Even the final confrontation of Kingsley with the real killer seemed overtly dramatic and hence unintentionally hilarious.The book had promise, but for me, it didn t deliver That s 2 in 2, Mr Elton. Flanders, June 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 MurderDouglas Kingsley Is A Conscientious Objector, Previously A Detective With The London Police, Now Imprisoned For His Beliefs He Is Released And Sent To France In Order To Secure A Conviction Forced To Conduct His Investigations Amidst The Hell Of The Third Battle Of Ypres, Kingsley Soon Discovers That Both The Evidence And The Witnesses He Needs Are Quite Literally Disappearing Into The Mud That Surrounds HimBen Elton S Tenth Novel Is A Gut Wrenching Historical Drama Which Explores Some Fundamental Questions What Is Murder What Is Justice In The Face Of Unimaginable Daily Slaughter And Where Is The Honour In Saving A Man From The Gallows If He Is Only To Be Returned To Die In A Suicidal Battle As The Gap Between Legally Sanctioned And Illegal Murder Becomes Ever Blurred, Kingsley Quickly Learns That The First Casualty When War Comes Is Truth

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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  • Paperback
  • 444 pages
  • The First Casualty
  • Ben Elton
  • English
  • 07 August 2017
  • 9780552771306

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