A mysterious visitor to the Larkwood monastery reveals an unknown aspect to the life of one of its oldest inhabitants, the founder of the monastery itself, Fr. Herbert Moore. Fr. Moore, however, is now dead, leaving his part in the sentencing of a young Irishman, Private Joseph Flanagan, charged with desertion during the battle for Passchendaele in 1917, shrouded in secrecy.
Caught up in complicated military legal procedures, the events distorted by unreliable and incomplete accounts, Brother Anselm, a lawyer who become a monk, tries to reconstruct what happened. As Father Herbert was also his mentor, Anselm has a personal stake in finding the meaning behind what appears to be a cruel decision in a cruel war.
The author masterfully recreates the conditions of the WWI trenches. He keeps up a cracking pace, redolent of the awful experiences that scarred a generation of young men both physically and psychologically. Brother Anselm’s interview with Harold Shaw, a survivor of the trenches, was poignant and pointed in its reflection of the utter waste of war.
This is a novel that captures the complexities of human nature, in both “normal” and “exceptional” circumstances. Brodrick tells a story that takes the reader through a moving journey, showing how the human spirit can reach for something greater than itself under the most tragic of circumstances. This is a story of a simple man who becomes a shining example of doing what is right, no matter the cost to himself. In doing so, Joseph Flanagan achieves an enduring victory for good even as all around him explodes into a futile madness.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the first I have read by Brodrick. I will be reading more.