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Subject-matter does not come much bleaker than the First World War, and debut Canadian novelist P S Duffy tackles it with immense confidence. In The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, (Myrmidon, £12.99), Angus MacGrath is a sailor from Nova Scotia who enlists in a quixotic attempt to find his missing brother –in-law Ebbin. Angus is reassured that he will be employed behind the lines as a cartographer. Instead, he is dispatched to the front and the Battle of Arras.

At home, his teenage son Simon, grapples with his father’s absence and the rising hostility towards his pacifist Grandfather and his German teacher, Mr Heist.

Snug Harbour, Nova Scotia, echoes with a hollow patriotism while Angus and his fellow Canadians fight to gain control of Vimy ridge. There is a disconnected madness at the heart of the fighting. The relationships between the men and the incoherence of battle are reminiscent of Karl Marlantes’ seminal Vietnam novel, Matterhorn. The fate of Ebbin is cleverly done, but horribly effective. If the rest of the novel feels unsubstantial, particularly Angus’ relationship with a French woman, it is only because the central horror is so vividly executed.