Review: Dulce et Decorum Est by JL Merrow

The First World War cast a long shadow, and in the winter of 1920, it’s still at its darkest. When solicitor’s clerk George Johnson moves into new digs, he’s instantly attracted to friendly fellow lodger Matthew Connaught, who lost an arm in the Great War. As the two become inseparable, George begins to wonder whether it’s just friendship that Matthew feels for him or something more. And if it’s something more… can George risk a revelation of his shameful past?

Review by Erastes

A seasonal story, this. I believe that it was planned to come out at Christmas to take advantage of the Christmas market and those who like to read seasonal stories. However, don’t let that put you off because it’s not offensively so with holly draped in every scene and enough sugar to bring on diabetes.

This is a very nicely written story which just happens to have a Christmas section. In truth it could have been set at any time in the year.

I’m a bit of a sucker for post war stories, because they have the capacity to evoke great hope and regeneration and so it is with this book. One character is getting away from something, and the other protagonist has every reason to shut himself away and hate the world in general. It’s a refreshing change to find that he doesn’t and is–as many young men would have had to do in 1920–simply getting on with his life. So many books concentrate on the negative aspects of WWI injuries and mental incapacity, and while there is a touch of that here, it’s not enough to weigh it down with bleakness.

Neither does it take it to the opposite extreme. It could have been extremely sappy, but it avoids that–and I think that’s managed because Merrow writes the stiff upper lip and youthful breeziness of English young men very well. They don’t slip into stereotype either, nor wallow in too much angst or emotion, and in this it is nicely balanced. There are some frankly sweet moments, but it is a seasonal story, so I’ll forgive it.

If I have one tiny quibble is that the conflict was not sufficiently conflictly to really cause a rift. By the time it raises its head, the relationship between Matthew and George was strong enough to weather it and I never felt for one minute that rejection would be any part of an issue. I didn’t worry about their relationship, and that was a minus point for me. I wanted to say “Oh, Buck up, George!” at one point, because he spent a lot of time worrying about his problem which should have turned out to be a problem. But, again, it’s a short book (about 70 pages) and too much conflict would have marred the seasonal good feeling perhaps.

Overall, this is a nice seasonal story, beautifully written with memorable characters. Highly recommended.

Author’s website

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4 Responses

  1. How the flip did I miss this? Is it e-book only?

  2. Yes, I think it is–and you missed it because our colleagues are backwards in coming forwards! It would be right up your street.

  3. Sounds sort of a condensed replay of The Charioteer, set back a war.

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