Jocelyn Brooke: The Image of a Drawn Sword
Apparently, this was the first book he wrote but not the first he published. Unlike the later Orchid Trilogy this novel, while clearly having some autobiographical elements, is also clearly fictional. It tells the story of Reynard Langrish. Reynard was in the army during the recently finished World War II but was invalided out. He is now a bank clerk, a job he clearly does not relish. He lives alone with his mother. One day, a man stops at their door, claiming to be lost. Reynard recognises him as one of the customers of the bank, Roy Archer, a military man. They start talking and Roy invites Reynard to an unofficial boxing tournament. At the boxing match, Reynard gets drunk with Roy and then vaguely remembers he has made some commitment to participate in some military exercises.
Roy ignores him the next day at the bank but meets him after work and takes him to the Roman camp on the Downs where, indeed, there are many men running and doing other physical exercise and Reynard is strongly encouraged to join a military unit while there is still time. To the reader and, to a lesser degree, to Reynard, things seems somewhat suspicious. Is this really a paramilitary outfit and not the real thing? However, the day Reynard is supposed to sign up, he becomes ill and is very ill for some time. He slowly recovers but hears nothing further from Archer.
One day, while out walking he come across the camp where the training took place. There are scant remains of any activity but he does meet a tramp and starts talking to him. As it is getting late, Reynard spends the night there. When he wakes up, both the tramp and his wallet are gone. However, he is still concerned and returns to the site later and, in particular to the semi-cave where he and the tramp had spent the night. This time he notices a passageway and makes his way through. On coming out the other side, he is immediately seized by soldiers. He learns that England is in a state of emergency and that military service is compulsory. Archer, formerly a captain, is now a colonel. We follow him through his harsh training, though we learn little of the emergency. He eventually falls foul of military law and is sentenced to flogging but, with the help of a couple of soldiers, manages to escape. When he returns home, he finds his mother dead and Archer is on his trail.
I enjoyed this one much more than The Orchid Trilogy, as the sense of the sinister and unknown is so well-told. Is Archer a good guy or a bad guy? Is he really army or paramilitary? Who is the tramp (he turns up as one of the soldiers on the other side)? What is the state of emergency and how come it suddenly appeared from nowhere? Has Reynard gone through a time warp? And will be survive? We never really find out and the ending is somewhat of a surprise but Brooke certainly tells a good story.
First published 1950 by Bodley Head