Pedestrian fiction debut by a pseudonymous British historian combines espionage and romance against a World War I background.
The story revolves around a secret kept by its British hero, Hal Montgomery. In the trenches during the famous Christmas truce of 1914, Hal meets Wilhelm, a German officer engaged to an Englishwoman named Sam. Wilhelm asks Hal to pass a photo of himself to Sam, and after the British soldier is wounded he returns to England, looks Sam up, falls in love with her and decides not to reveal the meeting with Wilhelm. Hal becomes Sam’s friend and eventually her lover, even though she does not reciprocate his feelings. But when Hal is invited to work in intelligence analysis in London, she agrees to go with him and brings along Wilhelm’s illegitimate son, who grows up thinking Hal is his father. As the narrative focus shifts to Hal’s war work, tension largely falls away, but Ford compensates with an inexhaustible supply of background minutiae about both the homefront and the battlefield (the latter via letters from Hal’s sister Izzy, a nurse overseas). Hal has “a good war,” achieving success and promotion, although Izzy’s death is a bitter blow. Invited to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, he meets Wilhelm, who has glimpsed Hal with Sam and accepts they are happy. But Sam has discovered Hal’s deception too. Will she leave him? Will Hal decide to do the decent thing? The suspense is not overwhelming.
Stiff-upper-lip storytelling redeemed by flashes of feeling and a welter of period detail.