Leslie Cadmore and Patrick Sibley were inseparable as children and, later, as lovers. When World War II hit, both young men did their parts to serve king and country. For Leslie, that meant flying a desk doing extremely top-secret work. Meanwhile, Patrick put his vocation as a veterinary doctor to use training dogs for the war effort. Both Leslie and Patrick just about came out the other end of the war relatively unscathed. However, a strange thing happened during a training session where Patrick and his hounds were present. The event left Fergus Jackson, an infamous member of the rowdy Retainers crowd and someone whom both Leslie and Patrick knew and disliked, dead. Soon after Fergus’ death—officially deemed accidental—Leslie and Patrick reunited. Instead of warm words for each other, both men were on edge regarding recent events and exchanged harsh barbs. And so, after a brief exchange at Waterloo station, Leslie and Patrick were not just ex-lovers, they became complete strangers to one another.
Five years later and nothing has changed, until Leslie accidentally bumps into Patrick’s twin sister, Marianne, while out for a stroll with his dog. It doesn’t take long for Leslie to get roped into an afternoon of catching up with his former lover’s sister and his mother. The visit leaves both Leslie and his mother anxious to discuss what happened to all of Leslie’s old pre-war friends, and especially what actually befell Fergus Jackson. Then, Leslie gets a call from Marianne saying Patrick wants to meet up. It may have been years since either man said a word to the other, but Leslie is willing to hear what Patrick has to say. Leslie’s only problem is whether or not he’ll screw up the courage to ask Patrick the question he really wants to know: did he have anything to do with Fergus’ death? But before these two exes can hope to begin to clear the air, there are a few more complicated pieces of the puzzle. Like why another one of the Retainers group had been seeking out advice from Leslie’s father after a run in with Fergus, or why Patrick is the only person Leslie’s father turned to before abandoning his family for a life devoted to god.
The Deadliest Fall is a historical fiction story from author Charlie Cochrane. It takes place in post-WWII England. The narration is in third person and entirely from Leslie’s perspective. This works really well with the whodunit investigation aspects of the story. Thanks to Marianne’s machinations, Patrick and Leslie meet up far sooner than they otherwise might have. But only having Leslie’s take on what details Patrick can provide regarding Fergus’ murder means Patrick’s every word is filtered through Leslie’s suspicions. It was a great foil that kept these two from reigniting their passion too soon and builds a lot of anticipation through a slow burn.
What didn’t work so well for me from a story crafting perspective is how both the primary and secondary themes, Fergus’ death and what drove Leslie’s father to become a monk, are all years in the past. The bulk of the story amounts to nothing more than Leslie and Patrick meeting up at various locations to hash and rehash a man’s death and another’s devotion to god. Where Fergus’ death is concerned, those discussions sometimes expand to include a third party. Where Leslie’s father is concerned, there are a handful of short trips to visit him. Yet the fact remains, it all boils down to people talking about events long since finished and unable to change.
I was holding my breath for the third theme, Leslie and Patrick potentially making up. Naturally, Leslie is keenly aware that his reasons for breaking with (and not attempting to mend fences sooner with) Patrick boil down to Leslie’s suspicion that Patrick played some role in Fergus’ death. I wasn’t expecting a quick resolution. Over the copious discussions these two have, however, it’s clear a reconciliation is possible. Patrick plonks down obvious hint after obvious hint that he would like nothing more than to be with Leslie again. It’s Leslie himself who acts as his own foil. Initially, he refuses to reconcile for fear Patrick might be a murderer, but then he refuses to reconcile for fear getting involved with Patrick will distract him from discovering what actually happened to Fergus. I wasn’t a fan of “sex with you will be so distracting, I’ll forget about this dead man,” but I could at least appreciate where Leslie was coming from. And I was hoping for a nice, spicy pay off when that reconciliation came. Spoiler alert: said reconciliation is not spicy.
Clearly, I am not a reader who is enthralled by reading about a handful of characters going over the same set of facts with different lenses. That said, I’m sure there are readers who will adore how the details of Fergus’ death build and slowly come into focus. Leslie and Patrick slowly gather information and perspective from their combined recollections, from reaching out to others who were at the scene, and from talking to those who knew the deceased and ran with his crowd. Leslie and Patrick also engage each other as sounding boards for all manner of conjecture from ludicrous to plausible, all in the name of determining what actually happened to Fergus.
Overall, I would say The Deadliest Fall is actually about a murder as recounted again and again by two ex lovers with a side story about the lovers trying to figure out if there is a way forward for them. If you’re looking for action or spice, you’ll have to look elsewhere. However, if you love puzzles and crime, then I think there’s a wealth of material to sink your teeth into with this story.