Under the Cover of Mercy

Written by Rebecca Connolly
Review by K. M. Sandrick

As the German Army marches into Belgium in 1914, Edith Cavell, Matron of the Red Cross’ Berkendael Medical Institute, meets with the new Military Governor of Brussels. While Governor von Lüttwitz welcomes her offer of nursing services for all war wounded, regardless of the country for which they fight, he demands that the nurses also guard all wounded French, British, and Belgians. Because of her vows and Christian duty, Edith steadfastly refuses. “Never,” she says.

Under the Cover of Mercy fictionalizes the true story of Edith’s defiance of the occupying force as she creates a safe house for members of the Belgian resistance, then hides and cares for two wounded British soldiers until they are well enough to travel and can be smuggled out to safety. The book brings readers face to face with Edith just after fortresses at the border fell and small villages are being pillaged, homes are burning, and townspeople are fleeing or lying dead.

Author Connolly is known for her “sweet and swoony,” as she calls them, romantic novels. Under the Cover of Mercy is the second of her historical novels. The first, A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice, about the voyage of the Carpathia after receiving a distress signal from the Titanic, was published in 2022.

Connolly’s writing is straightforward and descriptive, delivering facts and chronicling events. But while Edith’s heroic story unfolds, it concentrates on the telling—the who, what, when, and where. Missing for this reader was the feeling, the understanding, the ability to stand with Edith Cavell and get a sense of her determination in the face of oppression, her courage in the face of fear, her commitment to healing no matter the cost to herself.