In this novel of war and remembrance, a soldier-turned-attorney adds a new bullet point to his resume—stolen art investigator.
Elmer Davis is a renowned criminal defense lawyer in Washington, D.C., but none of his high-profile colleagues know about his experiences in World War II. Now 63 and disenchanted with the legal profession, he’s ready to tell all to his feisty girlfriend, Cecelia. So begins a flashback that occupies the first pages of the book. The year is 1943, and according to Davis, he’s “small, insignificant looking, a real klutz athletically, and a great disappointment to my parents.” He also has low self-esteem, but he decides to enlist in the Marines for the usual heroic reasons. “We are starting to win this war and it would be kind of exciting to kick the Germans out of Paris,” he tells Suzanne Robards, his first love, with whom he endures somewhat predictable heartbreak. Military service earns Davis a sense of identity and the nickname “Frog” for his impressive basso when calling out dirty ditties during field exercises. Wounded by shrapnel and captured by German forces—a scenario reminiscent of Hogan’s Heroes—Davis later finds some solace in the arms of an energetic Frau. “Elmer was like a kid who had just discovered ice cream,” the author says of his first sexual experience on a hospital cot, “he just couldn’t get enough.” After surviving the Russian invasion and celebrating the nuking of Hiroshima, Davis returns home, excels in college and puts his commanding voice to work in the courtroom. Back in the present, he has another surprise for Cecelia: He’s starting a new business recovering artwork stolen by the Nazis. “If I can get that first client,” he says, “I think the business will take off.” Then, somewhat unbelievably, he befriends his former Nazi captor and reignites sparks with his old flame. Author Loos paints on a broad canvas with impressive scope. Part coming-of-age novel, part legal thriller and part World War II story, the book is sprawling and ambitious if a bit overstuffed. Despite the clear prose, the dialogue can be comically formal: “ ‘I shall miss you,’ he said sadly. ‘You have been such a bright spot in my life.’ ” Still, those ready to go along for the ride are in for an exciting tale with plenty of ups and downs.
An overflowing tale of love and war, with plot turns as swift as they are melodramatic.