November 1915 finds Butler’s durable war correspondent/secret agent Christopher Marlowe Cobb expecting some time away from cloak and dagger. Fate, the Germans, and his boss have other plans.
Despite the pleas of the Foreign Office and the manifest inability of the British and French to win the Great War on their own, Woodrow Wilson is stubbornly keeping the U.S. on the sidelines. But of course there’s nothing to prevent Kit (The Empire of Night, 2014, etc.) from sending the Chicago Post-Express inspiring tales of Americans like John Barrington Lacey, Cyrus Parsons, and Jefferson Jones, who’ve volunteered to serve as ambulance drivers. Kit’s relatively sedate plans of riding along with these drivers and getting them to pour their hearts out are upended by a bombing at the Terminus Hôtel and the promise of more. James Polk Trask, the head of the American Secret Service, thinks Kit would be the perfect candidate to infiltrate the ranks of recent German immigrants who may secretly be saboteurs. It’s hard to share his confidence, since the first person Kit suspects of heading the saboteurs is vindicated in a spectacularly abrupt way, and his second suspect disappears while Kit is supposed to be keeping an eye on him. Luckily for Kit, he’s far more successful at romancing Louise Pickering, a New England–born nurse who’s just as wary of strangers as he is and just as susceptible to high-flown sentiments. As for the rest, readers who don’t know how World War I turned out will find no spoilers and precious little espionage. Paris isn’t the only thing in the dark here.
Sensitive but unimpressive. The early paranoid previsions of all-too-contemporary fears about immigrants just aren’t enough to lift Butler’s latest above the crowd of stiff-upper-lip period tales of the War to End All Wars.