It is the brutal winter of 1944 in Italy near the city of Cassino. The Italian government has collapsed, and the Germans are retreating northward. A group of American army soldiers are sent on a reconnaissance mission. They stumble upon a German officer with a woman. The German kills two soldiers before Corporal Marson kills him. Their patrol leader, Sergeant Glick, then summarily executes the woman. Along the way, they commandeer a 70-year-old native to act as a guide. Glick sends Marson and two other soldiers, Joyner and Asch, along with the guide to scout for straggling Germans. In the relentless cold rain, they begin climbing what turns out to be a mountain. As they advance, they are not sure if the old man is really a fascist leading them into a trap. Adding to the uneasiness, there is animosity between Joyner, a Midwestern redneck, and Asch, a Boston Jew. Marson, nursing a painful foot blister, tries to keep the patrol focused on their mission. Not long after, they come under fire from a German sniper and begin a struggle to combat the enemy and stay alive.
Bausch has written a short but intense novel about the folly of war. The narrative is nuanced with individuals who at times are rational, sensitive, and trusting, then in an instant become irrational, suspicious, and brutal. It is a story of men enduring the tension of fatigue, unyielding bad weather, and the constant awareness that death can come at any time. In essence, this novel is about the most important part of war – the comradeship needed to survive.