This capably understated portrayal of a veteran soldier's singular postwar adventure is the first novel from a respected military historian (The Vacant Chair, 1993, etc.). The protagonist, identified only as ``the colonel,'' is a former Nazi tank commander and prisoner of war, retired and working intermittently as a translator, living with his wife in quiet anonymity in a small German village, many years after his country's surrender. When an American film company shooting an ``epic'' movie about the war asks him to serve as a consultant, his curiosity and his vanity drive him to join the crew on location in a neighboring country (apparently Italy), where the colonel endures casual affronts to his practiced dignity, and variously upsetting relationships with the film's forthright woman director, the egocentric actor who'll play him, the actor's awkwardly maturing son (who's enthralled by the colonel's military expertise), and the seductive actress playing his wife (who seems enamored of the man the colonel once was). As the fictional story he's watching blends in his mind with long-buried memories of combat experience, the colonel realizes ruefully that ``his life then had a richness it lacked forever after'' and that he too has been an actor--``in a play with unfortunate consequences, a mental strutting and posing that created bombed-out cities and tossed broken corpses into ugly arrangements.'' Mitchell succumbs to overplotting along the way, but brings his story to a highly effective climax and denouement, ending it with a dramatic flourish that curiously recalls a recent novel rather similar in theme and tone as well: Brian Moore's The Statement. Though it's not a fully realized work of fiction, this is a thoughtful, lucidly written character study and moral drama that augurs well for its author's new career as a novelist.