Carola Dunn returns with a particularly strong entry in her Daisy Dalrymple series in Anthem for Doomed Youth. Eight years after the Armistice that brought to a close the First World War, implications from that arise again in one of Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher’s more grisly cases. He gets a report that three bodies have been found in Epping Forest, the stereotypical burying ground of murdered bodies from London. They seem to have been buried at separate rules, the most recent a week ago, the middle one a couple months ago, and the oldest one a year ago. And all have pins on their jackets over they heart, with the most recent body’s pin holding a piece of paper spelling out “justice.” The only good side to this job is that it is far enough removed from the Fletchers’ home that Daisy can’t find herself involved. Thus Alec is more willing than usual to discuss details of the case with Daisy. And Daisy’s friend Sakari, the Indian wife of a highly important official at the India office, wants to know all the details.
Because of the furious rate at which he and all his officers work to find the “Epping Executioner,” Alec can’t join Daisy and her friends at the sports day at the school of his daughter, Belinda. So Daisy goes to support Belinda, Sakari goes to support Deva, and their neighbor Melanie goes to support Elizabeth without the girls’ fathers. The trio go to the girls’ Quaker School in Saffron Waldon, a centuries-old community, and the girls do well at the school games day. The next day, after attending the Quaker service in the morning, the mothers take the girls to a park that contains a famous 17th century maze made of yew bushes. While the girls explore the maze, the mothers relax until Daisy hears frantic screaming coming from inside the maze. Lizzy has come across the body of the games master, and Daisy has to locate the gardener to help her find the girls lost in the maze and the dead body, who has clearly been murdered.
Anthem for Doomed Youth shifts back and forth between Alec and his case of three buried bodies and Daisy, along with her friends and their daughters. The cases intersect at the end of the book, but for the most part, they operate separately without feeling a strong disconnect between the two sets of stories. The book’s title is based upon a poem of the same title by Wilfred Owen, a famous poet from World War I who wrote about the evils of the war after having experienced them personally as a soldier in the war. With Belinda’s going to a Quaker school, she has a teacher who spent the war in prison for being a pacifist, which leads to discussions of conscientious objectors, especially in the light of the animosity shown to him by the games master, who was an officer in the war and a bully. One might be concerned that such a pattern of alternating between the two stories could be confusing, but Dunn does a strong job of making the shifts seamless.
I had a really good time with the characters, especially being reunited with some old friends. I enjoyed getting to see Daisy’s twins begin to grow up and play with her, as they begin to speak a few words. I also had fun being reunited with the timid and proper Melanie and the curious and mischievous Zakari. I laughed at the way Zakari used her status as the wife of a high- level government official to tease the incompetent local detective.
Lucy Rayner continues as the narrator of the latter half of the series. I really enjoy her performance as she brings this book to life. She does good voices for the characters, giving Melanie a nervous- sounding voice and Zakari a voice that positively twinkles!
I have read all of the Daisy Dalrymple books up until this one, and while some are weaker than others, Anthem for Doomed Youth is one of her stronger ones. Though named after a poem famous for lamenting all the young men who lost their lives, both through death and through being maimed, the book does not push the message of the evil of war to the degree of feeling like a political message. It does show a number of people harmed by the war, but I didn’t feel like the message was politicized. I really appreciated this book and found it very well- written. I give it five stars.
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