The First World War is raging. On the muddy battlefield of Passchendaele, a soldier murders his senior officer and cuts off his hand. The murderer is a thief, and he intends to transform the hand into a ‘hand of glory’, a sinister keepsake that – according to mythology – can open any lock. After absconding from the battlefield and joining forces with a young French girl who, posing as a medium, exploits the grief of families whose loved ones died in the war, the thief uses the hand of glory to full effect. But when the thief returns to his old hometown, he doesn’t suspect that his past is (quite literally) about to haunt him… Captain Giles Hardy, who was trapped on barbed wire when the hand was taken, saw everything. More than that, the thief also murdered Hardy’s best friend in a bungled robbery attempt, and now the ghost of that friend is urging Hardy to track his killer down and bring him to justice. Hardy knows that only by ending the thief’s reign of terror will the spectres of Passchendaele be free, and yet how can he do that, and who will believe him? As more people die, and as the menace draws closer, Hardy and the woman he loves are destined to become the hand of glory’s next victims…
This isn’t really a tale of the supernatural, although the sequences describing the hand of glory are very well put together. This is a novel about war and its after-effects, as seen through the eyes of several very different characters. It’s also a novel about the nature of grief, and of the way soldiers were treated when they returned home from the front line. These were men who would never completely be able to return to ‘normal’ society, whose physical and mental scars would pursue them forever. Susan Boulton tells their stories very well – the scenes on the battlefield are especially convincing – and her characters, despite being the familiar stereotypes, are nicely colourful creations. Even the melodramatic climax works, although it feels so much like a 1930’s cops ’n robbers movie you can almost hear the ‘Devil’s Galop’ (the stock chase music that was the ‘Dick Barton – Special Agent’ theme) while you’re reading the final chapter.
Unfortunately, it’s all a little too mannered (which, in fairness, reflects the period within which it’s set) and lacking in genuine surprises.
HAND OF GLORY / AUTHOR: SUSAN BOULTON / PUBLISHER: PENMORE PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW