A thriller unravels the secrets of an elite band of paratroopers and its daring exploits in World War II.
While visiting a military hospital, Sgt. 1st Class Dylan West makes the acquaintance of an older patient who served in World War II. The man petitions Dylan for help—he served in a Parachute Infantry Battalion, and the friends he fought with vanished, never to be found. He hands Dylan a list of seven names and dies shortly thereafter, consecrating his request as a last wish. Dylan’s father disappeared in 1974 while serving in Vietnam, and so the elderly man’s entreaty moves him deeply. Unfortunately, the man is an enigma—no one at the hospital knows who he is, and in his wake he leaves no paper trail. Dylan teams up with Capt. Madeline Custer, a case investigator for the U.S. Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, a doggedly devoted professional who has made extraordinary sacrifices for her country—she lost both her husband and part of her leg in combat. Dylan and Madeline eventually track down two of the names on the list—Griffin Thomas and Vito Cutaia, both still alive and living in the United States. Nevola (Revenge of the Pearl Harbor Survivors, 2011, etc.) slowly unfurls the complex and intriguing story: The men on the list were members of two Parachute Infantry Battalions tasked with nearly impossible missions, like the taking of the Belgian village Rochelinval, the records of which are so buried Dylan and Madeline have never even heard of it. The soldiers were serially mistreated and then unceremoniously resigned to oblivion. The author deftly limns the historical backdrop of the unit members’ fates: Many were Italian-American, and their families were branded "enemy aliens" during the war, an ignominious classification that often entailed a loss of property and livelihood as well as incarceration. While Nevola’s command of the historical details is superb, he bombards readers with too much of everything—factual details, historical context, and digressive subplots. The novel is simply too long, slow, and convoluted as well as too eager to sermonize about the nation’s decline.
A historically edifying but fictionally uneven war tale.