A journalist doggedly attempts to unravel a mystery about his father’s wartime service in this novel.
John Patrick “J.P.” Kilroy Jr. is a political columnist for the Washington Times who is estranged from his father, Johnny. When he’s called on to receive the Medal of Honor on Johnny’s behalf, Kilroy didn’t even know that he was dead. Reluctant to collect the award, Kilroy eventually relents. At the White House ceremony, he meets four men who served with his father in World War II: Schuyler Johnson, Harley Tidrick, Frank West, and Lincoln Abraham. Abraham is also getting a medal, one of seven African-Americans who served in World War II to be so decorated and the only living recipient. Kilroy is regaled by all four of his father’s old friends about Johnny’s service as an elite Army paratrooper. The columnist learns about Johnny’s best friend of the same name, called Jake to distinguish between the two. Kilroy soon becomes suspicious the crew is harboring a secret regarding his father, an impression all of the men eventually confirm. Nevertheless, they made a pact to never disclose the truth, compelling Kilroy to pursue the matter. Meanwhile, he begins a torrid romance with Cynthia Powers, a representative from the Army’s Public Affairs Office. Nevola (Revenge of the Pearl Harbor Survivors, 2011) spent four years researching this novel, and his scrupulously punctilious efforts show—his mastery of the historical material is astounding. The author is particularly adept at explaining the complex race relations that characterized the military at the time, wrought with prejudice and segregation. In a memorable exchange with Kilroy, Abraham complains bitterly that some German prisoners of war were treated with more respect than African-American soldiers. But Nevola buries readers under a mountain of minutiae and overdeveloped subplots, which is why the book needlessly registers at more than 500 pages. In addition, its tone can be cantankerously didactic: Schuyler grouses too hyperbolically about the decline of America. Still, the story’s denouement is spectacularly creative, justifying the author’s dawdle getting there.
A rigorous, if bloated, tale about race and honor in World War II.