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3.8 out of 5 stars
The First Casualty
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
I must confess that I have not read a Ben Elton novel for sometime (Blast From the Past being the last), which is odd as it was Ben that inspired me to have a go at writing. Having read an article on The First Casualty I gave it a go... and loved it. Yes, like many I picked up on the obvious Blackadder 4 links, but as a period project obviously close to the author's heart this works on all levels, i.e. great characters, intrigue, history and comical observation. Against the backdrop of murder investigation there is a touching and poignant account of life in the trenches which really hits home - the cramped train journey, the march to the front and the appalling sanitation. It is observed from all angles - gung-ho hero, pacifist, revolutionary to the scared and brow beaten ordinary Tommy. Ben Elton brings it altogether to make one great novel.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2007
I thought this was absolutely excellent. I had reservations at first as, apart from Blackadder, I have never warmed to Ben Elton or observed him to be a particularly sensitive writer. How wrong can you be, this novel aches with love, longing, hope and despair. Yes, it's formulaic; yes, the villain is cliched, but it's a wonderful piece of writing.

I agree with other comments in that it is a 'small' book and not destined to be a classic, it focuses on characters and plot first and foremost, but to dismiss it out of hand is, in my view, wholly wrong. This novel was an unexpected surprise and I doubt whether Mr Elton will write anything to match this again.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2006
I really think that Ben Elton has matured as a writer from the comedy sketch 'Stark' to this his tenth novel and finest work. Yes you do still get the cheeky juvenile Elton skits but this story captures and intrigues, particularly as you spare a thought for life in the trenches (if you ever want to read the best depiction of how it feels to be on a front line then Stephen Crane's 'Red Badge Of Courage' remains the classic). The blueprint for 'The First Casualty' is straight out of Blackadder 4 - the concert party, nympho nurse and digs at the class system (and Haig) - familiar. And like that piece of TV work, this is a classic
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2009
A very interesting novel. The plot and characters are charming but all fairly two-dimensional, but the backdrop of England and Ypres in the First World War are excellent.

The plot concerns a conscientious objector who is selected to solve the murder of an aristocratic officer and famous poet (think Siegfried Sassoon). To do so he must leave his wife and son behind and plunge himself into the battles, thus confronting his beliefs and the horrors and madness of the modern war.

This plot seems to start slowly (which is fine) but then rush itself toward the end, the bulk of the investigation happenning in one quick block and ending with an obvious culprit and an even more obvious motive.

It's all predictable (and at times implausible) stuff, but the passionately-detailed historical backdrop is what makes this a good read. Elton seems to have little enthusiasm for characterisation here, but he clearly has a keen interest and a lot to say about the War and the social / political issues effecting and surrounding it. This might sound like a negative review, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book for its depiction of Bolsheviks, closet homosexuals, conscientuous objectors and suffragettes; all of them plunged into a war unlike any before it.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
This new book of Ben Elton's was gripping from the first page. It is an unusual combination of a detective story set in the first world war. Using this canvas it is able to explore many of the major issues of war, morality, conscience and human dignity, as well as highlighting the terrible and wasteful tragedy that the first world war was. Of what importance is the murder of one man when governments are killing millions in the war? What is particularly well defined by Ben Elton is all the power and machinery of the state that is used to compel people to do things, that given the chance to think properly they probably would not do.
Most of this is done deftly by the author, although at times the language, not surprisingly reads as though it is a screenplay, or perhaps one's mind translates it into language that one might have heard in well known TV/screen productions. This doesn't detract from the book, which is too much of a 'page-turner' and too full of thought provoking ideas to distract the reader. The hero sometimes sounds quite stiff, but this is probably in keeping with his character and with social behaviour of the times.
As somebody who has read all of Ben Elton's books, I thought that this was his best, although don't expect the usual humour. It is quite different from the rest of his work, although still retaining the strong moral messages.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 4 September 2007
Reading some of the other reviews here was extremely depressing and also worrying. This is nothing like Black Adder, miles from it. It is a wonderful story. Not an exhaustive history of the first world war but deeply evocative of the horrors of the trenches and the nonsense of war, or certainly that particular one. A really great read with excellent characterisation. Also, although far from a comedy, one of the funniest lines I've ever read when the private and the colonel meet with the hero's piece of cake.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 November 2007
I read too many books to be able to review them all, and wasn't going to review this book until I read some of the other comments! I now feel compelled to defend Ben Elton as an author - I have read and enjoyed all his books and find him an intelligent, witty writer. Of course people are entitled to their opinions, but some are downright rude! The First Casualty is a departure indeed for Mr Elton and I think it worked pretty well. Yes, there are shades of Blackadder, but so what? My only criticism is that some of the dialogue seemed a little stilted, particularly when the soldiers were discussing the war, but other than that it was a good entertaining read. I have read Birdsong and can safely say that I much preferred The First Casualty.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 June 2014
I recently read 'Two Brothers' by Ben Elton and enjoyed it so much that I decided to purchase this and give it a go. Coupling that with my interest in all things First World War and reading other novels in the genre such as 'Birdsong' by Faulkes and 'The Journal' by John R McKay (new author), I bought this and read it very quickly.
I liked Ben Elton as a stand up but for some reason, until recently, I avoided his books. No idea why! This is a very very good book and takes the reader back to life in Flanders during the Great War as Kingsley investigates the murder of a British officer. It is handled exceptionally well and I for one will now plough through his back catalogue.
Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 March 2015
‘The First & Last Casualty’ is a thoughtfully descriptive title for a yarn that instructs as convincingly as it entertains – much more so than many history books’ efforts in describing the real living nightmare of soldiers caught up in 1917’s ‘No-Man’s Land’ in Flanders during WWI. This satirical and charismatic novel pits the heroic individual against the nation, the masses and other individuals. Love, ignorance, prejudice, manly courage, feminine spirit, sexual eccentricities, quirkiness, and the hypocritical malevolence of the wartime British establishment all offer sheer reading delights and they are showcased brilliantly inside Ben Elton’s grave-comic-prose; ultimately revealing the tragedy of the shattered human condition and the warped nature of the then human logic that contentedly sent millions of fighting men to their certain deaths amid shells, machine guns, barbed wire and mud. Ben Elton is supreme in his ability to make you laugh while thinking hard upon misfortune, pain and loss. The book tempts with a talented but disgraced police detective, now operating as a military policeman, and his search for the truth concerning a murdered officer. Elton tortures, charms and amuses as his ‘war to end all wars’ story gushes and flows. The characters are hugely believable, extremely well-drawn and somewhere between their inter-connected lives and a shrewdly conceived plot, you will find that the book’s pages just seem to turn themselves. I strongly recommend.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 2005
I was very surprised when I read the back of the book jacket and found out Elton was writing a serious novel. I was skeptical and did not expect much. To my surprise, I found myself up late at night reading this gripping well written novel. I hope his fans support this novel. I'd love many more like this.
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