In Pale Battalions


Robert Goddard


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

December 23, 2007

had never heard of Robert Goddard (the author - of course I had heard of Robert Goddard the inventor of liquid fueled rockets) before I picked up this book from the display at the library. A story of intrigue and double-crosses and secret agendas? Sounded good to me! And it turned out to be a good book indeed. I am not sure if In Pale Battalions is "mystery" story, a "thriller" novel, or a "literary" work - but the cover blurbs call it a literary thriller, so I placed this review in my mystery/thriller category.

The novel begins in the late seventies when an old woman takes her fifty year old daughter to visit the WWI memorial to the British soldiers who died in the battle of the Somme. They search out the name of the Captain the Honourable John Hallows. The old woman, Leonara, explains to her daughter that Captain Hallows was her father. Leonara then points out that the date attributed to the death of Captain Hallows was 10 months before she, Leonara, was born. Who then was her true father? This is the first mystery of the novel, with which Goddard expertly hooks the reader.

Leonara then begins a long narrative to her daughter, describing her lonely childhood growing up under the cruel supervision of Olivia, the Lady Powerstock. Incidents are described - Olivia is not Leonara's mother, but she is her custodian. Leonara grows up on the decaying, desolate grounds of Meonsgate, were there are rumors of a unsolved murder and a mysterious suicide years earlier.

Goddard adds more mystery to the plot. When Leonara had grown to adulthood, a strange man comes to her, telling a long narrative - he called himself Mr Weiss, and he then promised Leonara a detailed explanaton that will answer the questions regarding her missing parents. Mr Weiss claimed his real name is Captain Tom Franklin, and that he served in WWI with Captain Hallows. Franklin begins his tale in the trenches of World War I, where he first meets Captain Hallows, and after Hallows dies on a night patrol, and Franklin himself is wounded, Franklin is sent back to convalesce in England. Hallows' parents, at Meonsgate, have opened their estate to recovering soldiers, so Franklin asked to be sent there. At Meonsgate, Franklin discovers a curious cast of characters: there are several wounded soldiers, a voluptous Olivia (Lady Powerstock), and Leonara - the young widow of Captain Hallows. (This is not the same Leonara that begins the novel - both mother and daughter share the same name, and to Goddard's credit, it never is confusing about which Leonara is which.

One puzzle never resolved - what did the title "In Pale Battalions" mean? Maybe it was explained in a paragraph that I raced through to see what happened next...

There are so many false leads in the story that it takes a while to sort everything out. But eventually, it seems that Goddard does resolve all the mysteries, all the loose threads are tied off - except you keep reading, because he still has a few more tidbits of information to throw at the reader, which of course changes our understanding of everything previously understood. This is a very clever piece of writing, to give the reader one solution, and then change things around and make an entirely different solution the answer. I will have to read more books by Mr Goddard - and fortunately he appears to have written a good number of them.