Peacetime by Robert Edric
It is late summer in 1946 in the Wash on the Fenland coast. Into a suspicious and isolated community comes James Mercer, until recently a serving captain in the Engineers, who is now employed in the demolition of redundant gun platforms. A relationship grows between Mercer and the wife and daughter of a soldier who is soon expected home - though he is returning not from active service but from a sentence in military gaol, and his arrival is awaited with anxiety. Mercer also befriends Mathias, a German prisoner of war engaged in similar work who has no wish to be repatriated; and Jacob, a Jew, former glassmaker and camp survivor, of whose devastated journey to this isolated place Mercer gradually learns. He learns, too, of the bond between the German and the Jew and is drawn further into their history as the ex-soldier finally returns and begins to re-establish his overbearing authority. In a place where nothing has changed for decades, the agents of destruction and renewal are at work and everyone begins to search for his or her piece of solid ground. As the summer dies, animosities flare, prejudices and enmities are burnished and the six main characters circle each other like the combatants they believe themselves to be - each man or woman constrained by an intractable moral code, the loss of which is unthinkable. And Mercer finds himself caught in the centre as events quicken to their violent and unexpected conclusion. In his powerful new novel, Edric captures with breathtaking economy the sense of portent and uncertainty shared by a community in the aftermath of conflict - a community for which peacetime is hardly any different to wartime.