This is a novella, a short book which I wanted to be longer. Set at Christmas 2014 it revisits Christmas 100 years earlier, the first year of the Great War, and follows the story of one man in the trenches with the Royal Sussex Regiment. Third in the series by Nathan Dylan Goodwin about his forensic genealogist Morton Farrier, it is a little different from its predecessors in that it focusses on Morton’s own story rather than that of a client.
Morton knows he is adopted but has recently discovered a complicated family secret. So in an effort to build bridges and learn more about his ancestors, he and girlfriend Juliette travel to Cornwall to visit his Aunty Margaret and Uncle Jim. Over the festive break, Morton and Margaret trace official documents telling the story of Morton’s great-grandfather Charles Farrier, who fought with the Second Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment. However as records are uncovered, more questions appear. At the same time we are told Charles’s story in 1914, with its own mysteries, contradictions and secrets. Unknown to Morton, old and modern mysteries are inter-linked.
I love the formula of the Morton Farrier books, the combination of present and past, secrets and lies, the hunt for truth and puzzles solved. This book is a little different, I think for two reasons. First, I longed in the first half for more dynamic detail of Charles’s story rather than dry factual reporting. At the front of the book, the author explains that two of his own relatives fought with this regiment. At the end of the book, the author explains that the movements of the Second Battalion are recorded as faithfully and accurately as possible. It feels as if the history bound the creative hands of the author. The second difference is that Morton is researching his own family and so the emotional attachment is different. Unlike when he is searching for clients, there is no immediate danger to his life, property or loved ones.
I raced through this book, intrigued by the mystery of Charles and his young wife Nellie. If you are new to the Morton Farrier books, you will appreciate this novella better if you have already read the first two in the series.