An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.
This novel is an evocative and exciting tale set in Burma and England in the 1850s and also America in 1860s; detailing events in the history of the East India Company, and the men who worked for them.
The first decade saw the Indian Mutiny that led to the end of that once great East India Company that ruled on behalf of the British Government, becoming an instrument of the British Empire. The second decade saw the American Civil War when eleven southern states seceded from the Union leading to a war which it is said, caused the greatest loss of life in American History.
The adventure begins in 1852 in Burma during the Company's war with the King of Burma. Sergeant Arthur Bowman of the East India Company's Army is called to a meeting with Major Cavendish. He is told that he has been selected to go on a secret mission into territory held by the King of Burma. The mission is a suicidal affair and goes badly wrong [with the few survivors taken prisoner and tortured].
On his release at the end of the fighting, Bowman is repatriated to England and joins the Metropolitan Police force in London. His experiences out East have left their mark on him. He is a shadow of his former self having lost a lot of weight, suffering from epilepsy as well as drink and drug addictions. However, when doing his job with the Police, he is very effective if not all that scrupulous in his methods.
Then a body is found in the sewers by a young boy who reports it to the Police and takes Bowman to the scene. The body has been mutilated and is unrecognizable, but Bowman instantly understands the significance of the clue left at the scene. He believes that it must be one of the men incarcerated with him in Burma. His only problem is that he is now suspended after a man he beat up on orders of the Company has been found dead. To add to this his boss, Superintendent Andrews has warned him off from investigating the case of the mutilated corpse, due to suspicions that Bowman maybe somehow involved in the mutilation.
Bowman must try to find the murderer himself without any help from the Metropolitan Police and without them finding him involved in investigating the case. He turns to an old East India Company Man; the captain of the ship that took the men on that fateful mission. Captain Reeves reveals more about the failed mission and agrees to get information about the survivors. So begins Sergeant Bowman's search for the murderer and prove his own innocence.
What a quest this is for Bowman as he is forced into hiding, becoming a fisherman living in a riverside hut to avoid detection by the Police while also searching city and country to find his old comrades. This is an adventure in the greatest sense of the word, as Varenne has a fine eye for period detail describing events happening in the city of London and beyond, which help create a believable and tangible feel of the Victorian era.
The tale takes us on an epic journey of a man trying to recover himself from the damage and wreckage of war, to reclaim his dignity - after the demise of the great company he believed in, and served for so long. On the way he comes across many lives shattered by war some have been driven mad by what they saw and endured, while others survived only to become victims of dangerous working practices in the Victorian era.
Retribution Road is a really marvelous tale about survival against the odds in the nineteenth century; but is also a story of a man trying to come to terms with what serving as a soldier has done to him, and who he has become.
Translated by Sam Taylor