Ben Elton has departed from his usual quirky satire here, and has gone for a more traditional action/romance/whodunnit. Perhaps he felt he had to prove himself in a different genre, but the result is rather formulaic and not up to his usual high standard. (Having recently read the excellent Blind Faith, I found the difference quite glaring.) The plot is interesting enough. It is quite improbable, but improbability is a standard feature of this genre, so I'm not complaining about that. The whodunnit aspect was convoluted enough for a simple soul like me, and the writing style is simple and direct, which I like. The characters, however, were rather stereotypical and wooden. The only one who seemed at all real - and hence possible to identify with - was the villain. The sex was a bit formulaic and unnecessary too. Why do writers think that their heroes have to have interesting sex lives for their books to be successful? Oh well, maybe they do. I will probably read more books by Ben Elton, but will stick to his off-the-wall dystopian satires in future.
on 20 February 2011
I've not read a Ben Elton book since Popcorn. I wasn't overly impressed with that book so was not sure what to expect with this one considering the topic.
What i got was one of the best books i've read in a long, long time. You could easily see this book being made into a film if anyone decided to take it up.
The description of the front line was gruesome and made you feel that you were there. You also felt for the character Kingsley who went against everything he believed in and had to give up so much too just to get his job done.
The odious Captain Shannon was also a good character and i have to admit i was pleased with the outcome for him. Although my initial suspicion of the murderer wasn't who i thought. I was equally surprised about who it was too.
But my favourite chapter had to be the last one. Not many books have left me with tears in my eyes but the final chapter for me did just that.
I would highly recommend this book and advise to ignore most of the negative responses on here.
English author and entertainer Ben Elton has written many novels, seemingly all on different subjects. In "The First Casualty", Elton takes on the Great War and a man, who doesn't want to fight for intellectual reasons. Douglas Kingsley, a brilliant detective for the London Metropolitan Police, was drafted and filed for conscientious objector status. He claimed that the war was unjust and the killing of hundreds of thousands of lives - on both sides - was immoral. His claim was turned down and he was thrown into Wormwood Scrubs prison. This wouldn't be a place a policeman would want to be - reviled for his status as an objector and for his former job - and Kingsley knew he was a marked man. He is taken out of prison, marked as a dead man, and given a new identity as a military policeman and sent to France and Belgium to investigate the death of a soldier.
Now, by 1917, hundreds of thousands of men have been killed or grievously wounded since the war's beginning in 1914. But this murder of a single officer, in the confines of a rest home for injured soldiers, is different. Captain Viscount Alan Abercrombie was a noted poet-soldier. He was also gay. In the book's beginning he is becoming disillusioned with the war and the death and destruction he lives with daily. His murder, in his bed at the rest home, was attributed to a Bolshevic-leaning soldier, but the truth of the murder and the reasons behind the murder are definitely murkier. And possibly harming to a government entering the third year of a war they were supposed to win by Christmas 1914. Douglas Kingsley, now officially dead, is a new man with a new identity, and he is charged with finding the real murderer.
Ben Elton's view of the war is down and dirty. He shows the heroism of these soldiers, caught in a barely livable hell on the front, and the camaraderie between them. He also writes about split-second fate, between being blown up by a bomb or simply having avoided it by moving out of the immediate area a second or two before the bomb's explosion. Elton's book is an excellent look at the hell of the Great War and those men (and a few women) caught up in it. It is a police procedrual set at war.
on 27 January 2014
I have read several of Ben Elton's novels - mainly the earlier and less serious ones, which I usually enjoyed and this novel is not a bad read at all.
The book sets out to, not only tell an intriguing story, but also to challenge our beliefs about patriotism and war - questioning whether the two actually go hand in hand - does it mean that, just because a man was a conscientious objector and refused to fight for his country he didn't love his country and wasn't patriotic? It raises several questions about the moral, social and legal aspects of war.
The main character Kingsley is, for the best part, a really interesting and thought provoking character, as is the despicable Captan Shannon. He may be abhorrent, but he does highlight certain attitudes that were held about women in those days. However, the character of Nurse Murray who is supposed to be a forward thinking suffragette, is infuriating. I really disliked the way Elton wrote her as he suggests that, in order to be a strong, modern and courageous woman, Nurse Murray also has to be a crass slapper who carries a condom around with her so that she can strip off and sleep with anything in trousers. He has given her the morals of an alley cat and the mouth of a 'common fish wife' (metaphorically speaking) It could be argued that Elton has written Murray as a nice version of Shannon and suggests that, in order for her to be a strong woman, Murray must be more like a man. Elton then has her blubbering all over the place in order to show her vulnerable and feminine side!! He just hasn't got a clue how to write a strong woman and has done a terrible job of writing this particular female character. Some male writers are good at writing serious female characters that run true to form - Ben Elton, in this case, isn't. While the Nurse Murray character didn't ruin the book for me, it did cause me a few sharp intakes of breath from time to time, which distracted me from the story.
The ending was awful - a real cop out. It would have been so much better if he hadn't have written such a weak and predictable ending, and it was this, more than his awful Nurse Murray character, that made me give the book an over al 3 star rating.
Elton usually sticks with satirical novels which comment on the latest cultural obsessions of our frankly odd society. This is nothing like those, and I am grateful, because I don't rate those at all. This is one of those rare personal novels he writes, ones which actually connect at an emotional level. I enjoyed it in much the same way I enjoyed his book Inconceivable, because it is written with real feeling.
This is a WWI novel, set amongst the trenches of the third battle of Ypres in which an-ex policeman, Douglas Kingsley, imprisoned for objecting to the war, is freed in a torturously complex manner by the government and sent to go and look into the murder of a previously celebrated soldier who was one of the most popular advocates of the war effort.
It is fast paced, atmospheric and full of little historical details that allow you to see that Elton has thoroughly researched his topic. It is a good story as long as you ignore the obvious implausibility of the plot and the set battle scenes which, even though Kingsley is meant to be against the war, he conveniently throws himself into with alarming gusto. These jar a little, despite Elton's attempts to give him motives for his actions. The only other thing that grated was the conversation that Kingsley overhears on the troop train about the origins of the war. It rather reminded me of one of those bits you come across in blockbuster American films where one of the characters asks a blindingly obvious question and the answer is a small speech delivered aside, in which something the screenwriter thinks the audience might not get is trotted out in simple terms.
Otherwise a good, distracting read.
on 7 August 2012
Ben Elton apparently wrote this with his grandfathers in mind, both of whom served in the war, albeit on opposite sides.
The descriptions of life in the trenches - the constant bombardment, the filth, the mud, the lack of supplies, the morale, the camaraderie, the shell shock, the fear - is so realistic you'd think Elton had actually been there. He manages to weave all this into an interesting story about a conscientious objector who gets thrust into the middle of it as part of a police investigation.
on 30 August 2006
A real departure for Ben Elton, The First Casualty is about Douglas Kingsley, a policeman who conscientiously objects to the First World War on intellectual rather than moral grounds. Kingsley is allowed to escape the brutality of prison to investigate the murder of a young captain (and celebrated poet) on the front-line where he is ironically exposed to the true horrors of the war. With typical stubborn-ness, he puts himself in considerable danger whilst trying to solve the crime as the boundaries between actual murder and sending young men forward to almost certain death become ever more blurred by the events around him.
The First Casualty is an excellent, well-researched novel. Unlike most of Elton's other books, it is not about a modern phenomenon and contains longer chapters with less jumping between different scenes and plots. With virtually none of Ben's usual comic touches, it is still an entertaining read in its way as well as being thought provoking and moving at times. Highly recommended for anyone who likes Ben's books or anyone with an interest in the so-called Great War and its terrible atrocities.
This book is a lost opportunity. And it doesn't live up to its billing on the cover. The blurb sounds fascinating but fails to live up to its promise. I have an interest in the Great War and so naturally was drawn to this work of fiction by an author whom I knew had already written a number of critically acclaimed books, even if this one did represented a complete change in direction for him. But I wasn't that impressed. I couldn't help feeling as I read that everything he'd written has been said before - and said so much better. There was simply nothing new here. And if that wasn't bad enough the plot just required too great a suspension of disbelief. But this book could have been saved. With a realistic and three-dimensional cast of characters I could have overlooked many of the less believable aspects. Sadly, this was not to be. I really wanted to like this book, I really did, but it just didn't do anything for me. It's definitely got a little of Black Adder Goes Forth in it, only without the humour.
on 10 April 2007
I have sadly just finished this book. It was one of those books you really don't want to finish because it is so damned good! I don't care about any historical inaccuracies; it's a novel after all, not a reference book for the first world war.
The story follows a police inspector who is imprisoned for his concientious beliefs. This was his worst nightmare. In amongst the very people he had himself sent to prison and a concientous objector to boot.
He is however taken from prison to investigate a murder. This he does with his usual thoroughness and has many adventures along the way. Some of these are at odds with his beliefs. He even manages some romance along the way.
I have read nearly all of Ben Elton's books and have not always enjoyed them. This one however stands head and shoulders above anything else I have read by him. An absolute gem and highly recommended.
on 5 December 2010
I was uncertain about this book as I had never read any Ben Elton books before but, once I started I really did not want to put it down. It is a brilliant story really about one man's jouney and that jouney was one that most people would avoid at all costs. However, the hero was an exceptional character and he needed to be to survive and continue his life.
A really brilliant read, everything you could wish for in a great book.