Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne
Translated by Sam Taylor
“We owe you our lives, Sergeant, but you are our worst nightmare . . .”
Burma, 1852. Sergeant Arthur Bowman, a sergeant in the East India Company, is sent on a secret mission during the Second Anglo-Burmese War. But the expedition is foiled – his men are captured and tortured. Throughout their ordeal, a single word becomes Bowman’s mantra, a word that will stiffen their powers of endurance in the face of unimaginable suffering: “Survival”.
But for all that, only a handful escape with their lives.
Some years later in London, battling his ghosts through a haze of alcohol and opium, Bowman discovers a mutilated corpse in a sewer. The victim appears to have been subjected to the same torments as Bowman endured in the Burmese jungle. And the word “Survival” has been daubed in blood by the body’s side. Persuaded that the culprit is one of the men who shared his captivity, Bowman resolves to hunt him down.
From the Burmese jungle to the slums of London to the conquest of the Wild West, Antonin Varenne takes us on a thrilling journey full of sound and unabated fury, reviving the lapsed tradition of the great writers of boundless adventure. Sergeant Bowman belongs to that breed of heroes who inhabit the imaginations of Conrad, Kipling, Stevenson . . . Lost soldiers who have plunged into the heart of darkness and will cross the globe in search of vengeance and redemption.
Translated from the French by Sam Taylor
Firstly, let me say this paperback has a beautiful cover and perfectly sets the scene for the novel. It is brilliantly eye-catching!
The novel is historical crime fiction and very literary in parts. We follow protagonist Sgt Arthur Bowman in his quest for justice.
A quest that will see him travel through various countries on his way.
The novel opens in 1852 Burma, when Lord Dalhousie governor-general of India declared war on the king of Burma. Major Cavendish summons Bowman and informs him he is to take on a secret mission under Cpt Wright. He must intercept the ambassador. The mission is foiled and many men are captured as POW’s. Only ten men are ever liberated.
Norton Young &
Sgt Arthur Bowman
Are the liberated men.
The novel then jumps to London 1858, with Officer O’Reilly and Superintendent Andrews at the scene of a brutal murder. Bowman is tied to the case, due to his previous run-ins with men down at the docks. When he sees the body, he is in for an almighty shock. . .
‘The corpse in the sewer. I’ve seen that before. In Burma. In the forest’ – Bowman
Andrews becomes convinced Bowman is losing it, fearing he is headed for a nervous breakdown. Something we the reader learn, Bowman fears himself. As Bowman is under suspicion, he is placed under house arrest, until the case is solved. But Bowman is unlikely to just accept being a suspect in a gruesome murder on London’s streets.
‘London really was turning into hell’
Bowman acquires a list of the liberated men but is hindered further when the India company denies their existence and that such a mission took place.
Is there a cover-up at the heart of this murder?
Bowman tracks down each man individually. What her uncovers shows the true nature of the psychological/physical impact of mental and violent torture. There are no graphic details of the POW’s plight, but the readers comes to understand the depths of the soldiers despair. The trail of POW’s lead all the way across the oceans to t America, Where Bowman is reunited with old comrades. . .
‘You don’t even know if you’re seeking an honourable death or an honourable life, Mr Bowman. You’ll have to choose in the end, but until you do. You will not belong here, or anywhere else on this earth’
The murders appear to be continuing on American soil. Where black men and native American’s can be wrongly accused, leading to fatal consequences. Bowman becomes determined to correct this injustice and find the real killer.
‘They say it’s Indians. Because whites aren’t that cruel’ –
Dr Vladislav Brezisky
Bowman meets an array of characters on his travels and they truly enhance the storytelling. The display of the 1860s American landscape is remarkable.
I can see this novel drawing both British and American fans.
There is a brilliant ending, with a twist in the tale. The depth and the detail regarding the era and British/US social and political climate is what makes it such a fascinating read. 4.5*
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