IN PALE BATTALIONS by Robert Goddard


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As a successor to Past Caring (1986), Goddard offers an artful WW I English country-house melodrama featuring an unsolved murder. There is a long, fussy frame, narrated by a variety of characters, but the main action takes place in the summer and fall of 1916 at Meongate, Lord Powerstock's Hampshire estate, and is narrated by Lieutenant Franklin, a battlefield friend of Captain John Hallows, Powerstock's son. There is a brief, effective evocation of the front lines; Hallows is killed and Franklin invalided home, sent to Meongate for R & R. The atmosphere is ominous. While the grief-stricken Powerstock stays in seclusion, his second wife Olivia, a classic femme fatale, is being serviced by an equally classic cad, the American Ralph Mompesson, who has designs not only on Olivia, and on Hallows' pregnant widow Leonora, but on Meongate itself. Leonora gently rebuffs Franklin's attempt to protect her from Mompesson. Then Mompesson is shot in his bedroom and Leonora disappears. The winding trail leads Franklin through the slums of Portsmouth (and another mystery involving the first Lady Powerstock) to the Isle of Wight, where he finds not just Leonora (soon to die from post-childbirth influenza) but Hallows too; the officer had faked his death, then returned to Meongate to save Leonora from Mompesson, but his nerve had failed him; somebody else had killed the American. Feeling disgraced, yearning for a quick death, he persuades Franklin to change places; he returns to the war and is duly killed. The identity of Mompesson's murderer (a minor character) is not revealed until the concluding frame. Fast-moving suspense; Goddard teases the reader along at such a clip that for long stretches the hokey and implausible elements can be overlooked; only in the final section does he flounder, among endless explanations and a final revelation that is too clever by half.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1988
ISBN: 0385339208
Publisher: Poseidon/Simon & Schuster