What would it take to convince a group of British ex-servicemen to return to the killing fields of Flanders after the Great War? The very location where, just two years earlier, they had endured a hellish, kill-or-be-killed existence in the trenches, knee-deep in stinking mud, senses assaulted by the pounding of artillery, and surrounded by the dead — many whose bodies were violently torn apart by shells and bullets, taking part in futile mass charges into spitting machine guns, choking on mustard gas.
What would it take? Why, gold of course. Enough of the precious metal to set a man up for a lifetime of luxury, enough to make him forget the horrors he experienced — and continues to live through in heart-stopping nightmares — in the very same clay he’ll have to dig through to recover that gold.
In The Golden Grave, David Lawlor (@LawlorDavid) has once again written a cracking yarn set during the post-war period, filled with exciting action, intrigue and well-drawn characters led by Liam Mannion, the protagonist of the author’s debut novel, Tan (my review).
Liam, who is on the run from the British after his actions as a member of the Irish Republican Army, and his mates embark on the adventure at the behest of Sabine, a stunning temptress who ran a bar behind the lines where British soldiers would go to enjoy a brief respite from the mayhem of the front. Many a man had his eye on Sabine, and she was more than happy to encourage their interest while selling them beer and cigarettes.
Sabine’s a survivor who just happens to know about a shipment of gold that went missing in the aftermath of the British offensive on Messines Ridge, which has been called “the greatest mining attack” in history. Nineteen large mines were detonated within seconds of each other along a narrow front, temporarily collapsing German resistance as well as the bunker hiding the gold.
There are several sub-plots in play and Mr. Lawlor does an exceptional job keeping the reader in suspense, never giving too much away while at the same time letting us know things are not what they seem. The truth is revealed slowly, to great effect, and there are more than a few surprises in store right up to the end.
The author sets a wonderful scene, especially in the ruined battlefield. Two years after the war life is returning to normal, but the scars are never far from view: flowers bloom around shell holes and livestock graze in fields lined by trenches choking with skeletal bodies and discarded war equipment.
The war also left indelible marks on the men who fought it, from the aforementioned nightmares to other, more serious behaviors. As he did in Tan, Mr. Lawlor explores the emotional cost of the Great War, which for many men was both the greatest and most exciting undertaking of their lives and the most horrible.
The Golden Grave is a deeply satisfying story that hits all the right marks: action, adventure, plot twists and surprises, great setting, a bit of romance and memorable characters. I loved it and recommend it wholeheartedly. I became a fan of Mr. Lawlor after reading Tan, and hope he keeps writing stories like that and The Golden Grave. For more from him, check out his blog, HistoryWithATwist.