The Morning Rides Behind Us by Tariq Goddard

Give this rumbustious tale a wartime heroes' welcome
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The Independent Culture

Ex-Harrow and a professional alcoholic, Shallow enlisted in a haze of misplaced patriotism after a binge - and survives. In Tariq Goddard's novel, Remembrance Sunday 1946 finds him imbibing heroic quantities with his demobbed squad at a wake for Moat, their psychotic pal whose inability to cope with the frustrating mundanity of peacetime leads him to ride his motorbike into a tree.

Most of T Squadron resentfully work in the New Forest village of Grumwood's chocolate factory. Its owner, Oliver Dawson, docks pay for all attending Moat's funeral. Dawson squirmed out of active service but now lords it over Grumwood, despising his feckless workforce and demanding respect for the lucre he amassed through wartime profiteering.

He snatched unhappy Lou Polly as a bride while her former lover, Terry Delaney, was serving in France: "Face it, Terence, the no-good scrubber's upgraded." Delaney's comrades sympathise, but Lou's awkward position as the working-class "town bicycle" married to the new money quickly becomes symptomatic of the unease simmering throughout Goddard's superbly rumbustious third novel.

Over three alcohol-fuelled days, The Morning Rides Behind Us dramatises the sharp disjuncture between the emotionally cauterised military men and a civil society tolerating them with little respect and no decent employment.

The knives are out for Dawson, who hides his physical cowardice behind aggressive rants. Surprisingly, he makes an appealingly odious little tyrant, only able to relax when persecuting somebody. He attracts the venom of Vivien Ross, "Lucky" Jack's widow and the tartly spoken daughter of Lord Ross. Delaney takes insolent retribution against Dawson for docking his comrades' pay, a petty action that steadily escalates into a village-wide brouhaha.

The denouement is satisfyingly inevitable, but this exuberant narrative turns on the fresh possibility of tenderness. Goddard sacrifices fussy period idiom to narrative energy in this enjoyably comic but powerful tale, which poignantly chafes its reckless, emasculated heroes against the civil restraints of peacetime.