The concluding volume of Peake’s (The Sun Sets Twice: Book Two, 2018, etc.) narrative recounts brutality and heroism during World War I.
It’s August 1914, and American artist Jennie Latmore has now been living in France for 14 years. Following the loss of her lover, Geste D’Arcourt, who was a passenger on the Titanic, she moved into Suzanne de Lamothe’s house in Paris. The two women care for 8-year-old Lorelei Clark; her English father, Charlie, brought her back to Paris as an infant after his young wife, Marta, died, and Suzanne has become her de facto mom. Meanwhile, Charlie, who’s long dreamed of being a pilot, gets commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps. Although he initially flies reconnaissance missions, he’s soon pulled into harrowing dogfights. Former scullery maid Suzanne is now a respectable stage actress of some acclaim. Jennie, who abandoned her portrait work after Geste’s death, finds employment in a munitions factory; eventually, she becomes an ambulance driver. Suzanne, wanting to contribute to the war effort, later volunteers her house for use as a Red Cross convalescent home for wounded soldiers. The character portrayals, established in the first two books, become effective vehicles for illustrating the war experience this time around. Aviation buffs will find the detailed depictions of early flying machines to be of interest, especially as they’re tweaked and modified throughout the war. Peake vividly portrays Paris life as La Belle Époch gradually gives way to more modern fashion and mores, foreshadowing the coming of the Roaring ’20s; American jazz arrives on the Continent, and Cubism impacts the art scene. The linguistic laxity of Peake’s previous two books once again encumbers his prose: “He tumbling down through branches and hit the ground.” Still, he maintains a brisk momentum, ending the novel with a surprising twist about an ongoing murder mystery.
Love, art, war, and heartbreak mark this often engaging finale.