Cover Image: Two Storm Wood

Two Storm Wood

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Member Reviews

Two Storm Wood, by Philip Gray, is a bold book. So many other books about war, fiction or non, discuss the horror of war, occasionally the glory, often the heroism. But only rarely do books about war juxtapose the war dead with the victims of murder. Seeing the two so closely together forces us to try and spot the difference—and wonder if there even is a difference. And Two Storm Wood does this in addition to giving us a love story and psychological drama. This book is an emotional roller coaster.

Amy Vanneck is a romantic. So much so that she travelled across from England to France to find the remains of her secret fiancé at the beginning of Two Storm Wood. (Secret because Amy’s mother, Lady Constance, disapproves of her daughter marrying someone from the lower classes.) As she is told over and over, the former battlefields of northwestern France are no place for a lady. The people who tell her this aren’t wrong because most of the action of this book takes place near the zone rouge—land that was cordoned off so that no one would be killed by all the unexploded ordnance and toxic ground that’s still there more than a century later. But as I said, Amy is a romantic, and determined enough to walk into that to find what’s left of the man she loved.

At the same time that we follow Amy’s efforts to track down her fiancé, we also follow Captain James Mackenzie. Mackenzie is in charge of a group of British soldiers and Chinese laborers (who are subject to constant, appalling racism by the British officers who are bossing them around) who are collecting the remains of British soldiers who died to be reinterred in mass graves. Along with collecting those remains for reburial, Mackenzie tries to collect every clue he can so that the soldiers his crew finds can hopefully be buried with a name. It’s a noble mission. It’s also very dangerous work, being done by men who want to go home as soon as possible. It’s also work that brings Amy to Mackenzie. He and his men are digging near Two Storm Wood, the last place Amy knows where her fiancé was before she lost contact.

Meanwhile, a man known as Major Westbrook (but who we know is not Major Westbrook, because we saw this man smother the real Westbrook in the prologue) inveigles himself into the story by claiming to have orders to investigate what might be a war crime at Two Storm Wood. Thirteen men were tortured and murdered there before the end of the war. Most would be content to write the deaths off as another Hunnish atrocity—except for the fact that that part of the line was in British hands at the time.

Amy, Mackenzie, and Westbrook follow all the clues they can get their hands on as they try to solve their various mysteries. From our vantage point as readers, we can see that they all have different ends of the same stick. The plots converge near the end of the novel into a spectacular running chase along the edges of the zone rouge as all the secrets finally come out.

Two Storm Wood is a book I wish I had read as a member of a book group, because I would love to talk through all the questions this book tosses up. What do we owe the dead? Is it right for governments to use their soldiers’ lives in a conflict like World War II? What is the moral definition of a war crime? What is the difference between a death as a result of murder and death as the result of an enemy bullet? I hope you readers out there remember this book when it does come out so that we can finally talk about it.
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I was given the opportunity to read and review this book through Net Galley and I am so glad! The story sucked you in and you'll find yourself thinking about the characters long after you finish the book. Can't wait to read more by this author!!
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The author has presented us with a war story and one that resonates with the most antiwar message possible.  Its format is entirely different from most other novels due to the action taking place just after the end of the hostilities that took place for four years.  The year is 1918-1919 and the war is the bloodbath known as World War One.
     Just prior to England's entrance into the war than brewing which would involve Germany and Austria versus England, France, Belgium and Russia a young properly brought up lady named Amy Vanneck met Edward Haslam a man Amy thought suitable for her to marry but with a problem that in the days of the story was not suitable for her family due to an upbringing that did not include a title.  Be that as it may that two were in love and anxious to be together when events interceded and Edward felt incumbent to join the army and so off to war with the couple's love affair on standby.  The armistice came in November of 1918 and Amy waited with baited breath for her fiancé to come home to her.  When months flew by with no word from Edward Amy made a very non ladylike decision to go and look for him to either make a determination that he was dead and buried or still alive possibly wounded.
     The last word concerning Edward placed him in action in the northern part of France and it is to that area that Amy travels to in order to begin her quest. Philip Gray's description of the battlefields after action has terminated is a very vivid scenario of the death and dying of hundreds of thousands of soldiers faced off against each other using the weapons of modern warfare,  Both sides have contingents of soldiers working to unearth and bury men killed in the action as well as identifying them for future visits by families.  These descriptions serve to create an aura of death and destruction that is mainly lost when war is described by an author looking to bring a mood to his or her readers.  The sheer horror of the disaster that has befallen the land being described is missing when continuous action is written about. A short section depicts the people that used to inhabit the area heading back to attempt to find the sections they used to live on and attempt to recreate a life they lived just a few years ago.  How can any sane person just retake their property and live with the finding of dead bodies, of partial sections of what was once a human being and worry about disturbing a piece of live ammunition that could still prove fatal to innocents long years after hostilities have ended.
     Amy travels to the battlefield and over several months looks for her fiancé not knowing if he is still alive or dead.  And if dead buried under tons of rubble.  Without revealing the final answer to Amy's question the author introduces the discovery of a murder of several men that undoubtedly took place in order to cover up what was a crime even amid the daily routine of killing.  Mr. Gray's novel is a fascinating study of reactions by people coming to grips with a nightmare that goes on and on with no short term solution.  A book that in spite of horrific descriptions of an impossible world continues to demand attention until the end is reached and Amy gets her question answered one way or another.
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