In his first novel, Comrades Come Rally, Phil Brett creates an interesting detective story set against a complex background of revolution, state murder and sharp dress sense.
Set in the near future, Pete Kalder, a revolutionary who has become inactive due to events beyond his control, spends his time shouting at the television while a coalition of the mainstream parties talks of “national interest”.
As the novel begins, it is clear that Kalder, although sharp politically, had taken more time and care in looking after his cat and his appearance, than in reading copies of the Revolutionary Worker newspaper.
This all changes when an old friend and comrade, Jackie Payne, who is chair of the National Workers’ Council and leader of the United Revolutionary Socialist Party, visits him at home.
In a fleeting visit, and while power workers are declaring allegiance to the National Workers’ Council, Payne tells Kalder of the suicide of a leading comrade, Alan Wiltshire.
With a successful revolution seemingly within grasp, this untimely tragedy makes no sense. Why would someone who had fought for revolution for so long take their life while revolutionary tumult swept across the country?
This question is compounded when Payne admits that Wiltshire’s suicide note reveals he is a police spy.
Firstly, Wiltshire had been a stalwart of the movement for years; and secondly, the best time for state intervention to derail the movement was to come, so why had he killed himself now?
Both Kalder and Payne think something fishy is going on, and so Kalder dedicates himself to finding out what happened to Wiltshire, and whether the shocking revelation about his life
His self-acknowledged champagne socialism is thrown asunder, as Kalder throws himself into his investigation and into the revolution. Everything changes, except his attachment to fashion and his love for his cat.
The resultant novel is certainly an interesting read. Brett does well to capture the shifting and changing nature of revolution, as well as the mire of the secret state.
Throughout the book the reader is presented with the sheer dynamism and quantity of ideas that circulate in any revolutionary period.
The narrative, while often funny, can sometimes feel cluttered; however, the story itself does much of the talking.
The book occasionally feels trapped — Brett attempts to do a lot in Comrades Come Rally.
Simultaneously, the book explores murder, the possibility and the development of revolution, while constantly throwing clues to the past.
Chapter titles, such as “What is to be Done?”, “Infantile Disorder”, “The Mass Strike”, “In Defense of Marxism” and “Revolution Betrayed”, offer reference points for experienced readers, and point to the historical grounding that the book clearly has.
In fact, throughout the book it is clear that Brett’s knowledge of history is impressive.
However, no revolution in history follows the same patterns, and at times the story feels inhibited by the simple fact that nobody can imagine what would happen during a revolution in Britain.
Nevertheless, these contradictions simultaneously point towards the impressive level of planning that has gone into this book and I look forward to the release of more material by the author.