A little over two weeks ago the American and British forces left Afghanistan, 20 years after they entered following 9/11, the anniversary of which is marked this weekend. In the aftermath of any military campaign, especially one which entailed such a chaotic departure, it is often questioned as to what was achieved and did all those who died, die in vain? Even one hundred and seven years on from the first world war, questions are still asked by historians, and quotes still attributed to politicians and commentators of the day about the outcome.

U.S. President Wilson, thought then it would be “the war to end all wars..”, he didn’t live to see the Second World War. Hemmingway did, he was an ambulance driver in the first war and a correspondent in the second. In 1946 he wrote “never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime..”. That maybe so, but if nothing is done after all the talking and diplomatic avenues have been exhausted, then there’s the “Sliding Doors” theory that we may have all ended up speaking German, especially in relation to WW2. This month’s first book review is set in WW1, it’s ‘A Hundred Years To Arras’ by J.M. Cobley and published by Unbound ( 19th August.

Robert Gooding Henson is a twenty-three-year-old farmers son from Somerset in Southwest England. Who, against his father’s wishes, joins up just after the start of the first world war. He quickly forms deep rooted friendships with Stanley, who has lied about his age, and Ernest, who joined up to escape a life living rough on the streets. The bonds of their friendship are forged through gas attacks, spirit sapping life in frozen trenches, and hunting down kidnapped regimental dogs; while all along keeping up a sense of humour. The story follows Robert, and his regimental friends as they fight through France to a crucial battle at Arras. Thoughts of his parents farm and past loves on both sides of the channel draw him home, and leave him wondering if he or his friends will ever see their beloved home again.

I’ve watched numerous war movies over the years, but the most recent one set during world war one was the 2019 release ‘1917’, which received amazing reviews for its camera work and the performance of its unknown leads, along with the stellar support cast. But as for books set in World War One, this one stands out as the grittiest and most memorable, I’ve read to date.

From the first page you’re introduced to a simple, but seemingly well-read and rational farm boy, who is exposed to the to horrors of war, where for a lot of his fellow men and women rational thoughts and actions are destroyed by the sights, sounds and smells of modern warfare. The descriptions and detailed writing by Cobley, sticks with you like the cloying and frozen mud the characters trudge through day in and day out.

No more so than one pivotal scene where Robert is selected to make up a firing squad, tasked with executing two underage British soldiers, who are caught deserting. If nothing else in this or any other book you may have read on the subject, brings you up close and personal to the realities of having to shoot two young innocent boys, for just running from their fears and the reality of their situation, this scene alone will sear itself onto your memory.

On top of that there are the realities of the effect on the animals, both the working ones and the wildlife. Caught up in this unreal and hell like scenario, which is cutting a swathe across their home, and cut down by, bullets, gas and bombs. This all seen through eyes of a young man brought up to admire and respect nature. No where is this more poigniant then on the front cover, with an image of a dead sparrow liying on top of spent cartridges.

I couldn’t put this book down. Even though, I did think the relationship with his dad was a bit of an overused storyline, until at the end you discover that this is more than a well-researched work of fiction, and that J.M Cobley is actually a descendant of Robert, and Robert Henson Snr. not wanting his son to go to war was fact. After that, I was filled with admiration for both the story of Robert and how the author came to find out about his relative.

J.M. Cobley

This is English author Jason M. Cobley’s ( first novel. He is best known for his work writing scripts for the long running Commando comic series and graphic novel adaptations of classics such as An Inspector Calls, as well as a children’s novel The Legend of Tom Hickathrift (2018). He also hosts a weekly progressive rock show on Radio Abbey in Kenilworth, and currently lives in Warwickshire with his wife and daughter.

With a month to go to my choice for the November read of my book group, I now have a selection headache, with three possible choices. But I can tell you, it won’t take you long to go out and pick up this book or download it, Neither will it take you a hundred years to read it, but you may wish you could immerse yourself in it for that long.

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what ther other reviwers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.



the-photographer-of-the-lost-9781471186394_lgWhile reading an article the other day on the topic of golf course etiquette, and when it might be okay to walk off a course, the author claimed we have all been taught the same thing; and that is to always finish what you started. They went on to provide certain examples such as a DIY project, a sandwich…. (probably depends on who made it) and finally a book you are reading.

Well not in my experience! There are times when the old adage applies; that life is too short to drink bad wine or continue reading a book that you are not enjoying. This happened with this month’s second book review, which is sad, seeing as it was published at the end of October and this review is going up the day before Remembrance Sunday, when across the world we mark those who lost their lives in both world wars and all conflicts since.

The book is The Photographer of the lost by Caroline Scott and published by Simon & Schuster ( on the 31st of October.

Its 1921 and families are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many survivors of the Great War have been reunited with their loved ones Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. He is considered ‘missing in action’, but when Edie receives a mysterious photograph taken by Francis in the post, hope flares. And so she beings to search.

Harry, Francis’ brother, fought alongside him. He too longs for Francis to be alive, so they can forgive each other for the last things they ever said. Both brothers shared a love of photography and it is that which brings Harry back to the Western Front. Hired by grieving families to photograph grave-sites, as he travels through battle-scarred France gathering news for British wives and mothers,

Then as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to a startling truth.

I got as far as the eighty fifth page of this four hundred and ninety-five-page tome, most books get fifty pages to get me hooked, but it’s all relative when you have this many pages to read.

The two main characters seemed to be endlessly meandering back and fourth across rain sodden and mortar scarred battle fields looking for their loved ones, I found it hard to want pick it up and continue to read it, let alone overlook the inconvenience of lugging it around on my daily commute. Yes, if you have an e-reader its ok, but I don’t because I’m a traditionalist.

Casroline Scott

Caroline Scott

This is English born Author Caroline Scott’s (@cscottbooks) first book and was inspired while completing a PhD in History at Durham University. While there, she developed an interest in the impact the first world war had on the landscapes of Belgium and France and in particular the experience of women during the conflict. She was allowed to indulge her passion while working as a researcher for a Belgian company. Originally from Lancashire, she now lives in Southwest France.

I always feel upset at not finishing a book, especially when its for book group and the others tell me how great it was after the sixty fifth page. This book is not in my opinion an ideal book group read, as trying to read a book like this in a month or less would be a struggle, unless you only read one book a month and have nothing else occupying your life.

I wish Caroline well with this book and look forward to reading her future works and to those we’ll remember over the next couple of days….

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

(The Fallen, L. Binyon)

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

This book is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the others thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you go off and read the book, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d love the feedback.

Photographer of the Lost 2 BT Poster




Harris-Officer-Spy CvrHistory is littered with cases of miscarriages of justice from around the world that have shaken society to its core and attracted the attention of the world media. America has examples such as the Salem Witch Trials which led to the deaths of 19 innocent people on suspicion of Witchcraft, while the 1954 Dr. Sam Shepherd case is believed to have inspired the TV series and movie “The Fugitive”.  Britain has its fair share  although quite a few are related to the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland,  The Birmingham Six (1975), Judith Ward (1974),The Guildford Four (1974) and Maguire seven (1976).

It’s to France we go for this month’s book, a country not immune from miscarriages of justice and scandal. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431 on charges of Heresy but she was posthumously cleared in 1456. However, it’s the other big historical miscarriage of justice, The Dreyfus affair which forms the basis for the Robert Harris book “An Officer and a Spy”.

The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal which divided France from 1894 till 1906. It started with the court-martial of a Jewish

Alfred Dreyfusofficer Alfred Dreyfus on charges of treason and passing secrets to a foreign nation (Germany). He was found guilty in 1894 and sentenced to life imprisonment at the penal colony of Devils Island in French Guiana. He spent five years there in ever worsening and inhumane conditions imposed on him by a government desperate to rid him from the memory of its people. During that time evidence came to light that the actual culprit was one Major Esterhazy. The book tells the story through the eyes of Major Georges Piquart, the officer who actually first discovered that there were problems with the evidence. The evidence in question based solely on a couple of telegrams retrieved from the waste paper basket in the German embassy.

A career soldier, Piquart finds himself up against a very Georges Piquartdetermined foe in the French army and it’s Statistics Section (The Secret service) of which he is the head. As is usual in the clandestine world, there are no real friends and everyone is out to look after themselves. From the moment he is appointed head of the Secret Service he knows he is an outsider and that the staff under his command resent him. The more he pursues the truth and aims to prove Dreyfus’ innocence the more the government and its long tentacles of power attempt to deter him, even threatening his life and those of his family and loved ones.

I was first introduced to the case in history class in school, through my teacher Mr. Walsh; where the real hero was the eminent French journalist Emil Zola and his cabal of “Dreyfusards”. According to the history lessons and the schools books, Piquart plays a mere supporting role.  The thing about Irish schooling is that European history is widely covered. While my partner who was educated in England had never heard of the Dreyfus affair before she read this book.

Before this I’d never read a Robert Harris book, I’d seen the film “The Ghost Writer” an adaptation of his book “The Ghost” with Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Kim Cattrall and after seeing it, was kicking myself for not reading the book before hand. This is Harris’s ninth book of fiction which includes the afore mentioned The Ghost plus Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, Lustrum and The Fear Index. He’s written five books of non-fiction on subjects such as Hitler, Neil Kinnock, the media and the Falkland’s crisis and co – authored a book on the history of chemical and biological warfare with  BBC current affairs presenter Jeremy Paxman. Harris is married to the author Gill Hornby , the sister of Nick Hornby.



When it was initially recommended for the book group, even the chooser had some slight reservation about its length and suitability for a book group read. There are no real hard and fast rules about books for book groups, each to there own. But it has to be practical to be able to read the book in the time between meetings most groups meet month to month although some may make it shorter due to being made up solely of housewives or retired members, who might have a bit more time on their hands. Although that said, I respect that housewives lead very busy lives too and are not spending their days sipping latté’s, watching daytime TV and reading.

One of the group, bought the audio version, due to difficulties in sourcing a copy (I can assure you it is quite widely available) and said it was the best way to read it as the narrator David Rintoul really brought it to life with his pronunciation of the French names and place names.

An Officer and a Spy takes a long drawn out piece of French history and turns it into an engrossing page turner. Another member of the group read it over the Easter weekend just gone, that’s almost 500 pages in four days. Personally, I had the book finished with a week to spare before book group. Evidence, if it was needed, that this book really hooks the reader from the first page to the four hundred and seventy ninth with its gripping narrative, cast of well drawn characters and tension filled story-line.

In the past I’ve often berated books for being over crowded with characters, but in this book, Harris’s skilled penmanship makes sure that they don’t detract from the story-line and the role of the main character Piquart. It takes a certain skill to make a piece of history tantalizing and Harris is a master at this having done it numerous times before, for example creating an alternative ending to the Second World War as a basis for a detective novel in Fatherland. Similarly Pompeii is used as the setting of  a thriller set days before the eruption, Enigma is set around the code breakers of Bletchley in WWII and Archangel a mystery around the death of Stalin and his apparent heir.

Just researching these other titles for this piece has me salivating Fear Indexover them. Only the other day I discovered a friend had given me a copy of Harris’s 2011 book The Fear Index. This will definitely be moved up the bedside locker TBR pile and may even accompany me on a weeks hiking in the Derbyshire Peak District later this year.

They say the past is another country; it may be set in another country in this book. But Harris makes it very real and one of the best history lessons I’ve had in a while, sorry Mr. Walsh. So take my advice, hop on your bike and pedal to the shops for a copy of this book, some croissants and French roast coffee. Then lock the door, dig out your favourite beret and settle in for an amazing read that will leave you breathless even before the Tour De France starts.