The creator of Mma Precious Ramotswe and chronicler of 44 Scotland St. (A Time of Love and Tartan, 2018, etc.) spins a heartwarming tale of love won and lost and won again during and after World War II.
Valerie Eliot, a member of the Women’s Land Army assigned to help out at Archie Wilkinson’s farm, falls in love with American pilot Mike Rogers, and he with her. They get engaged and she gets pregnant, though not in that order, but then Mike gets shot down over occupied Holland together with his unnamed navigator and their mascot, Peter Woodhouse, a sheepdog. Even as Val is painfully schooling herself to relinquish the flickering hope that her bridegroom is still alive, Mike, his navigator, and Peter Woodhouse are rescued by sympathetic locals and improbably protected by Cpl. Karl "Ubi" Dietrich, an occupying officer unsympathetic to the war who thinks its end is so near that there’s no point in killing them or turning them in. The end of the war that Ubi has so accurately forecast sends Mike and Peter Woodhouse back to Val in what would feel like a happy ending if it didn’t come at the story’s halfway point, but a surprising number of tests and tribulations still await Val, Mike, Ubi, and Peter Woodhouse. Indeed, this is one of the author’s most resolutely plotted novels since his rewriting of Emma (2015): although the characters display limited possibilities for development, the postwar world proves quite as challenging, and as generous in the opportunities it offers for love and courage and forgiveness, as the world at war.
Not even a writer of McCall Smith’s benevolence can provide a happy ending for every character who deserves it here. But he leaves you thinking that they’ve each had a bite of the apple and that all in all, that’s a pretty wonderful gift to have been granted.