Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Armistice by Nick Stafford

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ☆
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: May 6, 2013

Philomena Bligh's fiancé, Dan, has been shot. World War I claimed many lives, but Dan was shot in the minutes after the Armistice. She cannot understand how this could have happened, or why they were still fighting that morning anyway. So, in March 1919, over Dan's birthday, Philomena travels to London to meet the men who were with him when he died. What she discovers is more shocking than she'd ever imagined. Dan's best friend, Jonathan, tells her that Dan was shot by a British officer over a gambling debt. There is no proof and all records of Jonathan's accusation have been destroyed. Philomena decides she must take on the establishment. Worried that she may cause his own downfall and feeling guilty for his mysterious part in Dan's death, Jonathan accompanies her. Set against a backdrop of London in the aftermath of the Great War, a time of upheaval, grief, and wanton escapism, this is not just an inspirational book about what it means to be a hero, but also a breathtaking love story.

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Colorized photograph depicting the signing Armistice of Compiègne
The prologue, six pages total, approximately seventeen hundred words. That was all it took for me to fall in love with Armistice by Nick Stafford. I was a goner. Hook, line and sinker. 

I don't know how accurate it is for Philomena to take up after Dan's ghost, traipsing the streets of London on her own in early 1919, but the idea of a woman ignoring propriety in her search of closure after the death of her partner, that is something I can understand. Stafford decision to build the entire foundation of his story on this concept is nothing short of genius. It creates an instant bond between the reader and his female lead and gives him a little bit of wiggle room in terms of historical exactitude. In short, this worked for me. 

Additionally, under the obvious question of Dan's death, Stafford explores post war society through the eyes of Philomena and Dan's friend Jonathan. Together these two represent all those left behind after the guns have been put down, their struggle to hang on to who they were before their lives were touched by violence and the people they became living in its shadow. Again, Stafford's use of emotion to augment the plot plays very well against the mystery Dan's murder. 

Not a particularly complicated whodunnit, but at the end of the day I don't think that is what Stafford was going for. This is a story about avarice, revenge, class distinction and desperation. Yes, it revolves around a suspicious death, but more than anything else this is a period piece about the human condition. A highly recommended read for those with a penchant for small scale historic fiction. 

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'You want me to give you my oath that I'll never let on that you told me what you're about to?'
'I'm not going to tell you unless you give me your oath...'
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