Peter Bradfield, the detective constable colleague of series character Inspector Charlton, is the narrator. Most of the book is devoted to Bradfield's reporting his military training from the summer of 1942 through November 1943. We follow him from basic training in Wales to his various transfers to other posts eventually landing him in an anti-aircraft detachment between the villages of Etchworth and Sheep, and coincidentally just outside of Lulverton where he and Charlton are based as policemen.
Battery Sgt. Major Yule -- "Cruel Yule" to the bombardiers he oversees -- is a sadistic, manipulative and narcissistic bastard. No other words describe him better. Throughout the novel he proves to be one of the most odious villains in the entire genre. In his indifference to human feeling and his perverse joy in causing misery for the soldiers Yule has managed to drive one man to suicide, got men he dislikes transferred to other bases, and punished others with demotions based on trumped up charges.
|40mm Bofors Anti-aircraft Gun|
Is it any wonder that Yule in creating false incidents, framing men he dislikes for imaginary offenses while protecting lazy good-for-nothings like himself, becomes the target of everyone's enmity? His demise is long overdue when it comes. Fittingly, he dies a gruesome and horrid death -- dragged by his legs while tied to an enraged horse, trampled and beaten by its hooves. When murder occurs on a military base the structure of a soldier's life -- or rather a bombardier's life -- reverts to that of a civilian. All men are on equal footing as suspects in a crime; no one can pull rank now as the police become the officers in charge.
|Royal Artillery Cap Badge|
The large cast of characters of military men and the few civilian women make for a varied bunch. Witting finds ample opportunity to show off a skill in replicating regional dialects and his gift for creating lively dialogue. Several of the minor characters like Gianella, a clever recruit whose specialty is playing stupid in order to get out of being assigned dangerous tasks, are the highlights of the book. In addition to the detective story plot Witting gives us a few romantic subplots with Bradfield and Fieldhouse both pursuing the girls of their dreams with some interesting sometimes amusing complications that arise.