It's market day in an English city two years into the Great War. The farmers are coming in from the country, the cattle are being driven through the streets and that evening a trainload of wounded soldiers is due to arrive. At the local mansion, its new hospital tents to the ready, waits Montague Beckwith, himself a psychological casualty of the war. In the town's poorest quarter, Winnie Barley prays that Walter, her missing son, will be on the train (but that her violent husband is not). In the pharmacy, Gertie Dobson dreams of romance while her father keeps unsuitable men at bay. And everywhere is Walter, a ghostly presence who watches as the girl he loved from a distance is drawn into Montague's orbit.
Weaving together multiple viewpoints, Andrew Cowan creates a panoramic, extraordinarily vivid portrait of a place as individual as it is archetypal. Here is a community where the war permeates high and low; where the factory now produces barbed wire, the women are doing the men's jobs, and the young men are no longer so eager to answer the King's call. And here is the tragic story of a casual betrayal, and a boy who proved that those at the bottom of the heap - the worthless ones - could be the most valiant of them all.