Gifts of War
During the Christmas truce along the front in 1914, British infantry officer Hal Montgomery emerges from the trenches to meet Wilhelm, a young German officer with a remarkable request. He hands over a picture of a lovely English girl, asking him to make contact to deliver the message that he is safe, and still in love with her. Hal makes contact all right, but says nothing about the young German officer. Instead he falls for her himself. There is a complication, however. The beautiful Sam has a young son, the image of Wilhelm, a fact that is threatening her livelihood as a teacher in her small Cotswold community. The solution is marriage, of sorts. Although she doesn’t love him, Sam agrees to go to London, taking the role of his wife. Thereby begins a journey, one in which as Hal becomes increasingly engaged in espionage work for the government, he hopes she will become increasingly engaged with him.
The publisher promises this is a book that will allow the reader to fall completely into the time and place of the story. And it is. The author spins a wonderful tale of complex relationships and unusual pairings which, if not only due to the upending circumstances of a World War, are certainly enhanced by it. However the skill by which he allows us to enter the lives of these two characters, as well as their family members, is ultimately the downfall of the book. Having painted himself into a corner with the web of deceit that supports their lives, he finds no way out at the end. Without giving the game away, I submit the author takes the coward’s way out, leaving the reader with a dissatisfying and deeply disappointing conclusion.