Excerpt from The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Cartographer of No Man's Land

by P.S. Duffy

The Cartographer of No Man's Land
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2013, 384 pages
    Oct 2013, 384 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


February 1st, 1917
Western Front, France

Angus MacGrath unbuttoned his greatcoat and leaned back against the one tree left on the bank of a river he did not know. Not far downstream, a private, standing waist-deep in the river, squeezed a bar of soap between his hands. It shot upward, and four or five other soldiers lunged for it, splashing and falling over themselves. Their uniforms, boots, and rifles lay in a heap by a jagged row of blackened tree stumps. Under a weak early morning sun, bands of mist rose from the cold river, occasionally engulfing the soldiers so that they took on a dream-like quality of white arms and torsos appearing and disappearing.

Above the river on a low stone bridge sat the engine of the troop train where, a day into their journey, it had lurched to a stop, unable or unwilling to carry on. Sunk between endless flat fields, the tracks ran east-northeast toward the Front. Angus flipped open his old pocket compass for confirmation, for comfort, really, and slipped it back in his pocket. He figured they'd be on the march soon, the engine still on the bridge.

While repairs were attempted, the ranks milled about the train, grousing over the delay, but grateful for it all the same. And for the sudden break in the weather. Housed in drafty huts in a camp thick with mud near Le Havre, most of them hadn't bathed since they'd crossed the Channel and arrived on French soil five days earlier. Those in the river were taking up a challenge. "Baptism and bless me!" one shouted, wading in. "Sweet Jesus, it's freezing!" cried another, plunging in after him. In the train, the owl-faced ranking officer drank steadily from his flask.

Like Angus, the boys in the river and those cheering them on from the bridge were fresh recruits from battalions broken up after training in England to be bled into existing battalions. Most would join the 61st. But Angus had been singled out and reassigned to replace a dead lieutenant in the 17th Royal Nova Scotia Highlanders—a decision no more random than any he'd encountered since joining up. If there was one thing Angus, now Lieutenant MacGrath, had learned, it was that there was no predicting how things would turn out. Of all the predictions he might have made, himself as an officer in the infantry was not among them.

In the state of suspension between the world as he'd known it and the absolute unknown, Angus considered the interplay of light and mist, the hazy edges, blank spaces and mute eddies at the river's edge. Above him, the sky turned a gauzy gray, and a fine rain fell. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes.

Rain. It had been a constant in the collected bits and pieces of the past few months. It had slicked the deck of the ship that carried him to England and slanted in rushes off the tents in the camp where he'd held a rifle for the first time, adjusted to the heft and length and balance of it, and where, surprisingly, he'd found he was a good shot. And where, not surprisingly, he'd found a heady release in charging straw-filled burlap bags, bayonet plunging into their sodden bellies.

Rain and rage. Rain and regret. He'd been sent over with assurances in a letter from Major Gault to a Colonel Chisholm that he'd be a cartographer. In London. Behind the lines. But Gault was unknown to Chisholm, and there being no shortage of cartographers, Angus had been dispatched to the infantry, where shortages were never-ending. "The infantry?" A chasm of disbelief had opened up.

"You heard me," Chisholm's adjutant had snapped. "You can bloody well draw terrain maps on the field. Meantime, the infantry can use your other skills—the ones you'll get soon enough."

And get them he did, with the rest of the 183rd, in an onslaught of rain that left bedding heavy and damp, uniforms drenched, and the camp awash in mud. Good preparation for the Front, he was told.

Excerpted from The Cartographer of No Man's Land by Peter Duffy. Copyright © 2013 by Peter Duffy. Excerpted by permission of Liveright / WW Norton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Les Parisiennes
    by Anne Sebba

    How the women of Paris lived, loved, and died under Nazi occupation.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.