Once Again Assembled Here: Sean O’Brien (Picador)

STEPHEN Maxwell has recently retired after spending most of his career teaching history at Blake’s, a minor public school with a strong military tradition.

He is charged with writing the history of the school but as he begins he cannot forget his own memories and the secret he has kept for nearly 50 years.

So instead he writes his own confession, which starts in 1968 when he returns to the school where he was a pupil, controversially appointed by his mentor James Carson.

When Carson’s body is found by a lake in mysterious circumstances Maxwell is drawn into a secret conflict dating from the Second World War.

Old rivalries among staff veterans reignite and Maxwell is forced to intervene in a conspiracy that goes to the top of the establishment.

And with the British Patriot Party standing in the local elections violence and threats soon make themselves felt.

O’Brien is an established poet and his writing is tight and evocative. This is a sentence which shows his great skill: ‘There was a peculiar bland softness about Claes, as though his outline did not contain him securely. He made me think of canals and flooded landscapes’.

The novel cleverly evokes the 1960s and the claustrophobic and closed world of a public school steeped in tradition.

There are also some strong characters, including Maxwell’s loyal and rather dissolute friend Smallbone.

Overall this is an enjoyable and engrossing read.