Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Unquiet Grave by David J. Oldman

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 20, 2016

London, 1946. The war may be over, but the it’s devastating effects are not... Captain Harry Tennant has returned from serving in Italy and North Africa, expecting to be demobbed, only to find his services are still in demand. A policeman before the war, he’s made part of the Intelligence Corps, investigating war crimes. Mostly he looks into smaller cases of army personnel who are the victims, or perpetrators of crimes. That’s how Rose Kearney’s file ends up on his desk. Her brother William, a soldier with the Hampshire Regiment, was reported missing in action after D-Day. Having heard nothing else since, she’s travelling from their home in Wicklow to find answers. As Harry starts to investigate, he learns Kearney was part of a carrier crew fighting near Caen. The bodies from Kearney’s crew are found near a French chateau, with one appearing to have been executed. But there’s was no sign of Kearney. Reports of Nazi atrocities nearby are leaking out and at first, it seems the men were victims of the ruthless Nazi machine. But things aren’t adding up for Tennant. Why was Kearney’s body never found, and why was an SS officer discovered with the missing man’s disks? Although his superior, Jekyll, wants the death blamed on the SS and quickly wrapped up, the more Harry digs, the more curious he becomes. He sets out to find answers, but only seems to dig up more questions. And it’s not long before Tennant find himself in grave danger...

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I feel like the only reviewer who didn’t fall head over heels in love with David Oldman’s The Unquiet Grave, but then I'm not really the swooning type. Most of my peers are overflowing with praise for the narrative and while I respect their opinions, I must admit that my own are decidedly modest. I like the mystery well enough, but the plot didn't take hold of my imagination and I often found that my attention wandered from Oldman’s prose.

The reader is introduced to protagonist Captain Harry Tennant as he struggles to rectify his war time experience with a post war existence. His professional career is stable enough, but his personal life is in tatters and it is clear the author meant to humanize the investigator by manufacturing a measure of sympathy for his situation. It's an admirable aim and I appreciated the effort, but the final product fell flat in my eyes. Forgive me, but Tennant himself didn't intrigue me at all and try as I might, I didn't really care if he figured himself out or not.

The supporting cast wasn't much better. Oldman attempts to create emotional conflict and depth by presenting a complex love interest, but the relationship never seems to have much going for it which probably explains why I found myself questioning the content. A red herring that fails to misdirect has no place in narrative fiction and at the end of the day I'd have been happier if the Oldman's attempt at romance had not appeared at all.

In looking at the historic content, it is clear that Oldman is well-versed in the subject matter. The narrative is chock full of details about the war and the light-hearted culture that took root in its wake. Believe it or not I actually liked those references, but the other elements of the story didn't come together the way I needed them to and I am not sure that I'll be continuing with the series.

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That first impression of seeing the city as relatively untouched soon began to fade. Each morning I became subtly aware of more damage, as if overnight the bombing raids still continued, only silently now. It was an odd sensation and one I kept to myself. In time that faded too as I began struggling like everybody else with the unreliable public transport, food and fuel rationing, and the general drabness of life that manifested itself mostly in shortages of everything you needed and surpluses only of things you didn’t want.
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