From the moment I saw the evocative cover of The Constant Soldier by William Ryan I couldn’t wait until I could get my hands on it so I am indebted to Sophie Goodfellow at EDPR for a copy in return for an honest review. The Constant Soldier was published in e-book and hardback on 25th August 2016 by Mantle, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, and is available for purchase from all good book sellers and by following the links here
The Constant Soldier
1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war.
When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her.
But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope – for Brandt and the female prisoners – grows tantalizingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever.
And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . . .
My Review of The Constant Soldier
Returning a physically disabled man to his home village in 1944, Paul Brandt little realises that the war will still affect his life quite so profoundly.
Let me say at the outset, that I am always grateful for the review copies I receive but that I don’t always buy them too. They have to affect me emotionally for that. I will be buying The Constant Soldier. William Ryan’s book is devastatingly good.
The title, The Constant Soldier, is inspired. So many characters continue in their roles, either real or assumed, as soldiers in spite of events. Paul Brandt himself soldiers on in the face of adversity. But, importantly, the book explores what it is to be a constant, unwavering and frequently unquestioning, soldier. William Ryan made me think about collective guilt and the part even the smallest individual plays in it, doing so in a style of writing that was at times almost unbearable to read and utterly compelling in equal measure. Anyone not affected by reading The Constant Soldier simply has no soul.
William Ryan’s writing is, quite literally, breathtaking. The short chapters not only add pace to an already captivating narrative, but I was glad of them because the underlying suspense and menace was so forceful I found I was frequently holding my breath with the same kind of tension Paul Brandt was feeling. I didn’t always want to read what was in front of me but I couldn’t stop either. A longer chapter and I was in danger of keeling over as even relative normality has a quiet menace in the life of these characters. I was completely rapt by the prose. A brutal truth underpins an epic narrative in The Constant Soldier in a totally compelling read. I so want to quote from the book to illustrate but because every word is perfectly attuned I can’t for fear of spoiling the read for others.
The sense of setting is cinematic, and if The Constant Soldier isn’t made into a film there is no justice (as we frequently find in the story) in this world. Equally, I found the characters so lifelike, that when events delayed me reading the final 35 pages I found myself wondering what was happening to them all, so real had they become to me.
I’m finding I don’t have sufficient vocabulary to explain what a fantastically well written, powerful and sometimes uncomfortably moving book The Constant Soldier is. Suffice to say it is one of my top reads this year.
About William Ryan
William Ryan is an Irish writer, living in London. William’s first novel, The Holy Thief, was shortlisted for a Crime Writer’s Association New Blood Dagger, a Barry Award, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award and The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. His second novel, The Bloody Meadow was shortlisted for the Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year and his third, The Twelfth Department, was also shortlisted for the Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year as well as the CWA’s Historical Fiction Dagger.