Milltown 1914, a fictitious small and cosy Scottish community is a microcosm: it has Communists, Feminists, Pacifists, Catholics, Protestants, some Irish descendants and a few foreigners. A class of students think about the future ahead while the diplomats set off a chain reaction of events leading to the Great War.
Higgins does an excellent job at weaving many personalities into a web of difficult and altering relations which drive along a well-structured and compelling plot. At the core of the book is the confession of Harry’s secret to his then girlfriend Jeanie, which slips out of her sworn secrecy and leads to his apparent suicide. All accept this for a fact apart from Aggie, who has a ‘sense of knowing’ that Harry was murdered and she begins to investigate her suspicions on her own. This plot line is the strongest in the book, another senseless death that could have been prevented and one that causes a chain reaction and affects many innocent people as a result. Along the way we hear the locals talk about feminist issues, economics, psychology, Jack the Ripper, the Irish issue and the Empire.
The main characters are well fleshed out but the supporting cast has also much to offer in terms of historical and societal details. The book goes easy on gore and violence – only enough to give us a glimpse of the horrors of war without taking us too far from Milltown.
The writing flows easy and is well paced, and with the engaging characters, themes and plotlines Higgins has excelled at bringing the times alive. Coming to full circle, the novel ends with a small chapter at the Somme in present day. What for? For nothing! Higgins has captured the lesson of WWI for us all and woven it into a great story.