A World War II novel explores the possibilities of love and courage amid catastrophe.
Capt. Tom MacMillan, an American combat pilot, flies treacherous missions in Europe during World War II. Terrified but also talented, he’s wounded and sent to an English hospital, where he’s put under the care of Molly Masterson, a beautiful young nurse who seethes with contempt for ill-mannered, uncouth Americans, especially hubristic pilots. She immediately dislikes Tom, who quickly reveals himself to be brash, indelicate, and girl crazy, fulfilling all of the stereotypes that fuel Molly’s disdain for Americans (“Molly loathed Captain MacMillan. She particularly disliked his eyes. They were a teasing blue-grey, piercing and quite exquisite, but smug”). But predictably, they start to soften toward each other, and then fall deeply in love. War, however, stands in their way, as Tom, shot down over Belgium, parachutes into enemy territory and encounters a brave farmer (“The farmer hid him in a row of beans beside a dense hedge several feet thick. The Germans were not far behind. Trucks roared to a stop nearby, and someone shouted an order. The Nazis beat the brush, closing in to where he hid”). Will Tom escape the Nazis and attempt to return to his base? Molly’s family proves to be an obstacle to their relationship as well, as her parents are less than impressed by Tom. This debut novel involves a number of twists and turns, which will keep some readers engrossed, but likely exhaust others. The acrimonious repartee between Tom and Molly when they first meet becomes tiresome and formulaic. But the author displays a remarkable knowledge of aviation and tactical warfare, which lends the combat scenes a vivid and stirring authenticity. And Tom is not the boilerplate heroic protagonist: he’s genuinely afraid, and confesses to Molly that he longs to be relieved of combat duty. Some of the narrative’s finest parts revolve around Tom’s struggle to muster the courage that seems to dwell inside him. The plot becomes excessively tangled, and Matlock’s quest to make this a novel of epic breadth, while a worthy ambition, may come at the expense of the reader’s patience. But a crackling combination of action and emotional poignancy should make up for these failings.
Despite its excessive length and complexity, an affecting story of hope in the face of despair.