Mercy Road

Written by Ann Howard Creel
Review by Fiona Alison

When a devastating fire destroys her home, killing her father, Arlene Favier is forced to support her family. The pampered daughter of a genteel French horse breeder, Arlene has only ever worked on the farm. Traveling to Cincinnati to seek work, she happens across the American Women’s Hospital, which is looking for war ambulance drivers. Arlene has several impressive and useful talents: she can drive a Model T, fix engines, and she speaks almost fluent French. Arriving in Paris, she crosses paths with Captain Brohammer, whose impressive good looks and slick charm make her wary. Once at the front, she is immersed in the dangers of ambulance driving (often German targets) notwithstanding the horror of some of the terrible injuries she sees and the many deaths she witnesses, in the field and en route to the hospital. When she unexpectedly meets Jimmy, a childhood friend from her hometown, she is smitten. Brohammer finds her again, boorishly ignoring all efforts to discourage him. After discovering the secret that he is harboring, Arlene makes discreet enquiries, but, rather than report her findings she only tells Jimmy, the consequence of which embroils them both in circumstances which threaten their new relationship.

Creel writes with fluidity and precision. Her descriptions of horse farming, Paris and the frontlines are told with equal certainty. Writing about early 20th century ‘based on true’ storylines with strong female protagonists with tough choices and self-sacrifice to make seems to be a special talent for this prolific author. I couldn’t quite embrace Brohammer’s interest in Arlene, but I read this in one sitting, and would recommend it to readers who are interested in the lesser known talents women brought to WWI.