Between the Sword and the Wall

Written by Thomas De Angelo
Review by Anne McNulty

Do I have to remind you all that we are in occupied Belgium and not some tavern in Nottingham?” British nurse Edith Cavell admonishes some drunken corporals in De Angelo’s short 2007 novel, but there’s no danger readers of Between the Sword and the Wall will forget it. In only a little more than 100 pages, De Angelo manages to create as richly believable an atmosphere of WWI-era German-occupied Belgium as many novels have failed to do at three times the length.

His story centers around Cavell, the cool, controlled, and compassionate moral focal point of Belgium’s underground resistance to the invading Germans, a caregiver who treated every wounded patient who came before her, regardless of their nationality, and who was eventually arrested, tried, condemned, and executed by the Germans. She’s a fascinating and too-little known icon of civilian courage, and De Angelo’s novel brings her wonderfully alive on the page.

His depiction of Cavell and the resistance is unstinting and unsentimental, which adds tremendously to the novel’s dramatic punch.