This is an excellent book by Ben Elton. I finished it a couple of days ago.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ben Elton, he is a British comedy writer extraordinaire. Probably his most famoust work is he co-wrote the Black Adder tv series with Richard Curtis (also of Love, Actually fame, amongst others).
Elton is a master at satire. I've read heaps of his books and whilst the wit and sarcasm are quick and biting, the satire is breathtaking. So I was expecting more of the same from this book. However, this one is a "serious" story.
Set in the middle of the First World War, police inspector and conscientious objector Douglas Kingsley is on trial for treason. He thinks the war is "illogical" and refuses to fight. So tafter a sensational media trial they sentence him to prison. Instead of sending him to a cushy white collar jail, then send him to maximum security facility where he meets many of the hardened criminals he helped put away in his career as a copper.
Of course, Kingsley gets badly beaten the first day he's there and ends up in the infirmary. In the meantime, a celebrated poet, aristocrat and war hero, Lord Abercrombie, gets murdered whilst recouperating from shell shock in a war hospital be in France and the military try to hush things up. He didn't die in battle and so they have a problem on their hands. The fact that the guy is gay doesn't help matters.
So the British Secret Service cook up a plan to fake Kingsley's death to get him out of jail, give him a new identity and send him to the front to investigate who murdered Ambercrombie. And so begins Kingsley's "new" life as Christopher Marlow, military policeman.
There are some humourous parts, but it's never out of place. The characters are well rounded and fully fleshed out. And even though they are the typical British "pip, pip, cheerio, what ho" types, they are very believeable. His descriptions of the soldiers' living conditions and battles they fight in are amazingly done. No sensibility is spared in describing what war is really like. It's a sight that most of us never see. Elton portrays the life and death struggle realistically. It makes you wonder why countries go to war in the first place when you see what can happen to people.
I highly recommend this book. At first the subject of world war 1 put me off, but after a couple of pages I couldn't put it down.