The Englishman's Daughter: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War I - Ben Macintyre, Samantha Bruce-Benjamin It is clear this book is written by a journalist rather than a novelist. Wouldn’t you clearly recognize the difference between the words of a novel and those found in a newspaper? A newspaper article relates fact and number and dates. It states the people and places involved. You are told what happens. That is how this book is written. This book is based on official documents, letters, diaries and newspaper articles. Extensive research lies behind its content. The facts related are about the villagers of Villeret which during WW1 hid seven British soldiers. Three escaped to Britain. Someone betrayed these men. The remaining four were captured and killed. This was in 1916. Villeret is located where the Battle of the Somme raged. The battle, the movement of the front, the numbers killed and such statistics are related. These events are presented in a dry manner. The use of gas is described with these words:

Germany launched the first successful chlorine-gas attack in April, north of Ypres, sending a ten-foot-high cloud of lethal lichen-green vapour into the opposite trenches.. Thousands coughed themselves to death. The use of chlorine by the GermanStinkpioniere units was followed by asphyxiating phosgene gas, carbon oxychloride , treacherously invisible and twenty times more deadly. Phosgene did not kill immediately. Death came painfully by drowning, after the victim had retched up several pints of yellow mucus, the much praised phlegm of the British soldier turned lethally against him. (page 102)

I compare these lines with the heart-wrenching portrayal of the men fighting in the trenches as the gas engulfs them in A Long Long Way. In Sebastian Barry’s book you are torn apart. In Macintyre’s you are interested. There is a huge difference. I am annoyed when the cover shows a quote from the Washington Times : “wrenching… thoroughly captivating …reminds one of the novels of Michael Ondaatje.” This book is clear and interesting, but not captivating or wrenching and I see no comparison to Ondaatje’s writing. It is a good book about the fighting around the Somme and what happened in one village in this area. One of the hidden British soldiers does fall in love with a woman of the village and they do have a child, but this is not a love story and one scarcely empathizes with any of the characters.

Only at the end of the book is one gripped by the story. Who could have betrayed these men? This is discussed in the last chapter. Here it is difficult to put the book down. The reasoning is clear and convincing. And you really do want to know.

The book does have two excellent maps and numerous black and white photos!

A good book about WW1 and the fighting on the Western Front. Interesting and well researched, but to use adjectives such as passionate and wrenching is to stretch it. Only the last chapter reads like a gripping mystery.