A college student learns respect from a military veteran in author Morin’s debut novel.
At the University of Maine at Orono, procrastinating senior Matthew Switzer struggles to write a paper on the American GI experience in Europe. Michelle Kessler, an attractive coed, suggests he meet with her grandfather Henry “Hank” Mitchell, a former lieutenant and fighter pilot in the Army Air Forces during World War II. Initially, Matt asks some rather inappropriate questions—How many Germans did you kill? How many of your friends were killed in combat? What was it like to see your friends die?—that offend Hank: “This isn’t research,” he says, “it’s just plain disrespectful, morbid curiosity from a child who has no more concept of that time period than a garden slug!” After admonishing Matt, Hank tells of his participation in a top-secret mission in May 1944, one that took him over the English Channel into occupied France to destroy enemy targets, including a Nazi bunker. Hank and his fellow recruits had doubts about the poorly conceived mission; crew members weren’t even allowed escape kits in case they were stranded behind enemy lines. After crashing, Hank was welcomed by kindly French farmers, the Tessiers, who hid him from the Germans in Jolieville, Normandy. Eventually, Hank was captured and interrogated by SS officer Steinert, a self-declared British double agent who facilitated Hank’s escape into hiding with the LeBlanc family: lovely Pauline and her three brothers, all dedicated members of the French Resistance. As the weeks passed, Pauline and Hank grew closer, but he distrusted Steinert, who pumped him for details about the Allied invasion. This stirring wartime account of the impending D-Day features solid dialogue and careful plotting, an exciting air battle sequence, and effective use of period detail, as with, in a pivotal scene, a phonograph loudly playing “The Flying Dutchman” by Richard Wagner, a favorite composer of the Third Reich. Matt’s pre-graduation jitters as he moves from disrespect to admiration provide an entree to the past. But this is Hank’s story, tangled as it was with Steinert’s, whose psyche was split by conflicting loyalties. As sole survivor of a top-secret military mission, Hank found himself in the unenviable position of being distrusted by the Allies, an unfortunate coda for his sacrifice and service.
Intriguing wartime tale well-told and cleverly plotted in an authentic historical setting.