When I first read one of Anne Perry’s WWI novels – At Some Disputed Barricade – I was looking for colour and context for my manuscript, UNRAVELLED. The nitty, gritty of war in and around the trenches. As I read, I underlined little phrases and descriptions that might prompt my own writing.
Far better than being gassed, coughing your lungs up, drowning in your own body’s fluids, or being caught on the wire, riddled with bullets and hanging there for days till you bled or froze to death.”
“Every now and then star shells went up, lighting the landscape, with its jagged tree stumps, erratic gouges out of the clay now filled with mud and water … broken gun carriages and burned out tanks showed up in the glare, and once the barrel of a great cannon sticking up out of a crater, angled at the sky.”
“A grey dawn saw them creeping forward through shattered villages. The houses were gutted by fire and bomb blast, some little more than mounds of rubble scarred black…
Perry’s series consists of five books: No Graves as Yet, Shoulder the Sky, Angels in the Gloom, At Some Disputed Barricade and We Shall Not Sleep. With a cast of characters from the Reavely family, Matthew, Joseph and Judith, all in their own way serving the war effort, Anne Perry weaves a tale of war with one of espionage and betrayal at the very highest levels of government. Whether you read one or all five – which I would encourage you to do – the plots are well crafted and move at a brisk pace, exploring questions about war without sermonizing, even though Joseph Reavely is a war chaplain.
My underlined sections also include notes about craft – examples of how Perry created backstory, interesting sentence structure, a segue from description to thought, pithy dialogue. There are also examples of chapter endings that make the reader turn the page and chapters that begin with a bang. Is Perry’s work fine literature? No. Is it good story telling? Yes. Do the novels hang together well? Yes. Can you enjoy them as distinct entities? Yes.
I learned a lot from Anne Perry. Not surprising, as she is one of the authors on the top forty favourite authors list.