Mason (Nancy Culpepper, 2006, etc.) may surprise fans of her Appalachian stories with this historical novel about a World War II pilot who returns to France to find the families who helped him survive after his plane was shot down 36 years earlier.
In 1980, 60-year-old Marshall Stone is forced to retire as an airline pilot. His wife Loretta, whom he loved but largely took for granted, has died, and he is not close to his grown children. With an empty future looming, he decides to retrace the trail he took after he crash-landed his B-17 bomber in 1944. Marshall was co-pilot, but when the plane was hit on Marshall’s 10th mission, he had to take over from the fatally wounded pilot and crash land in a field. Local farmers helped him before the Germans could reach him. A French farm family took him in and then passed him into the care of the resistance. Soon Marshall has reconnected with the Albert family—his oldest son named Albert in their honor—and the Alberts’ son Nicolas, now a school principal, offers to help him in his search. Marshall sets himself up in an apartment in Paris—he has studied French—and begins to look for the Vallon family that hid him in Paris in 1944. He is particularly haunted by memories of the family’s teenage daughter Annette and her charismatic friend Robert, a member of the Resistance who led Marshall to safety in Spain. Soon he meets Robert’s illegitimate daughter, whose memories of her father are shockingly dark. Then Marshall finds Annette, now a lovely widow, and she fills in the missing pieces—she and Robert fell in love shortly before he and the Vallons were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Robert never recovered from survivor guilt. Marshall and Annette become lovers before they set off to cross the Pyrenees, a trip full of bittersweet memories for Marshall.
Like Marshall himself, the novel maintains a reserved, laconic, even pedantic tone—off-putting at times yet often moving.