By MARY VAUGHAN The Praetorians, by Jean Larteguy (Hutchinson, 21s.).
That Men Should Fear, by John Naish (Hutchinson, 18s.).
The Campaign, by Gillian Freeman (Longmans, 18s.).
A Slanting Light, by Gerda Charles (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 21s.).
The High Wire, by William Haggard (Cassell, 16s.).
The Guinea•Pigs, by G. K. Wilkinson (MacDonald, 15s.).
THE Praetorians made and unmade Roman Emperors and, like other king-makers, lived thereafter in peril of their Frankensteins. M. Larteguy's Praetorians are the paratroopers of the French army (whom in his " Centurions " we met learning the bitter lessons of the Indo-Chinese campaign).
When they mix politics with fighting they find that, without calculated planning or clear political aim, they have accomplished the coup of 13th May, 1958, which brought de Gaulle back to power, and thereafter their lives and careers are in peril because their power is feared.
M. Larteguy is a legionary and a . war correspondent, and writes from within a fighting man's skin. We are taught almost more than we can assimilate about the day-today history of recent troubled years in Algeria and brought into close and not always dignified or sympathetic proximity with such legendary figures as Satan, Massu and Lagaillarde.
Clumsy The style is staccato and humourless and the mechanics are clumsy. The flashback-flash-forward-first person-third person-diary of someone else arrangements make for awkward story-telling, but the story is horribly fascinating. It is largely told by F.sclavicr, one of the wounded heroes of Algeria who has returned and is tricked into a liaison and telling his reminiscences by a coldblooded little journalist who is in unpleasant contrast with the Algerian girl correspondent, Francoise Bagueras. Francoise and Pierre Anderiou, the Algerian-bychoice, are lovable because they love. For most of the others, love is never more than physical, and women are regarded, in the words of one of them, as tools or toys.
The Praetorians underwrite, without fully understanding, integration: and their Caesar, de Gaulle, stands firmly by selfdetermination for Algeria. They do not understand either the "settlers" or the Algerians, and they kill without compunction as part of the trade they follow. If M. Larteguy aimed to win sympathy for them, he has failed, maybe because it is hard to love
or pity the self-sufficient. If he aimed to portray vividly warts, tin halo and all, the Godless career soldier, he has most vividly succeeded. Either way, he has written a great book.
Bitter, The equally bitter theme of "That Men Should Fear", set in the cane farms of North Queensland, is that "Man is as forgetful, contradictory, vicious as God"; but the narrator has never made contact with the distant God his mother worships.
He loves Mary Vaughan, young, intelligent, beautiful and doomed, and for the mounting disasters of her family he secs no explanation but the poet's: "Like flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods-they kill us for their sport." The problem of suffering is so blankly inexplicable to most of our contemporaries that this superbly written book merits dispassionate, if not wholly sympathetic reading.
God is equally incomprehensible to Harry Raines when he starts on "The Campaign" to improve the finances of the Anglican parish of Saint Mathias, though he ends by respecting, but still lacking, faith. Miss Freeman and Miss Gerda Charles are both more subtle and more sound on character analysis than any of this week's male novelists.
But the "Slanting Light" of imagination that Miss Charles throws on her characters is almost too blinding a searchlight. The machinery of the story-a selfcentred middle-aged woman writing to the husband she deserted in favour of a man who has deserted her-is more effective than at first seems probable, and Miss Charles proves, as she has done before, that the more deeply one understands a fellow being the more inescapably one loves him.
"The High Wire" is an alarmingly probable political thriller, competently plotted and capably written.
Mr. Wilkinson loves Provence enough to have set up home there, and "The Guinea-Pigs" is an amiable and amusing nonsense about witchcraft in a Provencal village. Top marks, too, to Mr. Wilkinson's publishers for consistently producing good fiction at, for these hard times, very reasonable prices.