Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dear Enemy, by Jack Cavanaugh (Bethany House)

(Click cover for more information)

(DISCLAIMER: I normally avoid the cliché “couldn’t put it down” like the plague. Therefore, please be advised that if you encounter it, or something like it, in this review, it will be for the simple reason that it was true.)

Dear Enemy is a quick read. It’s not a quick read because it’s particularly short, but because it’s particularly good.

Okay, maybe part of the reason for my enthusiasm is a fascination for the Greatest-Generation era. As horrific as World War II was, there was an ambient romanticism not born of war, but of a resurgent American society; reborn hope emerging from the Great Depression. You saw it in the films, read it in the literature, and heard it in the music. Values were less relative: right was defended, wrong was condemned, friends were friends, and enemies were enemies. Mr. Cavanaugh does a gripping job of highlighting these attributes in Dear Enemy—and bringing them into stunning conflict.

Annie Mitchell is an Army nurse at a field hospital in Belgium. Newly married, she and her husband, Keith, look forward to spending their honeymoon in Paris. Their plans are abruptly changed as Hitler launches his Panzer divisions on one last-ditch effort to stem the tide of a war gone sour—the Battle of the Bulge. Annie’s hospital is in imminent danger of being overrun, when she and a companion nurse commandeer an ambulance and race against time to find Keith before the enemy does.

A series of events catches Annie behind enemy lines in the Ardennes Forest, falling prisoner to a lone German soldier who is himself on the run. Her inborn hatred of all things “Kraut” drives her to escape, and, hopefully, kill her captor in the process. But something happens in the Ardennes that challenges her mores and preconceived notions, as common enemies and hardships force her to rely on the German—and him on her. A guarded relationship begins to emerge that disassembles and reshapes her understanding of what an enemy really is.

Reading the prologue of the book sealed my decision to buy it; however, I wondered if perhaps Mr. Cavanaugh didn’t reveal too much information in it. I almost felt like I knew the whole story just from the prologue. I was wrong. The prologue answered most of the “what” question, but not the “how” or the “why”. The “what” is the easiest part of a novel—it’s the “how” that is the finesse, the force that compels you to turn the next page…and the next…and not be able to put it down (There, I warned you…) until you’re emotionally satisfied with the “why”.

Mr. Cavanaugh mastered the “how” in Dear Enemy. The tension never lets up, but he achieves a flow, a rhythm, allowing non-stop action that doesn’t exhaust you. His character development is pristine; you really get inside Annie’s and Karl’s heads—and you care about them.

My only criticism is that the back cover came too soon. Well, too soon, anyway, for someone who couldn’t put it down. (Oops!)


Anonymous said...

Now I'm very interested in reading this book. I've seen it at the bookstore as well, and wondered if it would be a good read. But after reading what you had to say about it, I'm very interested. It's going on the birthday wish list. :)

Bruce Judisch said...


You won't be disappointed. I was almost tempted to do a follow-up on this today. You know how some characters stick with you after you've finished the story, like you can't get them out of your mind? Mostly it's characters in longer works--like Scarlett in GWTW, or a main character in a trilogy. I guess you bond with them, or something, over time and actually miss them when you've moved on. In this story, Annie was like that for me. Odd - not a very "guy-like" thing to say, eh? :-) That's partly what I meant in the review when I said the back cover came too soon. I wanted her story to continue.

That's character development!

Cheers! Bruce

the mccann clan said...

I love this time period too! Thanks for the review, I'll show it to Collin as well, as he's had a growing appreciation for all things in the WWII era.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean! The O'Malley Chronicles was like that for me. I fell in love with the whole cast of characters and couldn't wait to read the next book. Then when it all ended I was sad to see it go, but at the same time so happy in knowing I read all of them.

Kim M. said...

I really like the artwork on the cover of this book. It's definitely one I'd pick up to look through if I saw it in a bookstore.

Bruce Judisch said...


It really is a neat one. Each chapter starts out with an excerpt from Anna's letter's to her friend, Mouse's, sister recounting her experiences in the Ardennes (hence, the snow and the trees). Then the chapter goes on to fill out the story.

You'd really enjoy this one, Kim. Anna is a gutsy lady. Not the Angelina Jolie-type, in-your-face, shoot-'em-up, lace-and-testosterone kind of heroine, but a real, believable person who survived (and overcame) a believable ordeal.

Good stuff.

Cheers! Dad

Anonymous said...

I finished reading this book last night. With this one I laughed and cried. I can only imagine what it would be like to be in Annie's shoes. Very powerful book and gives you a lot to think about concerning how we treat each other based on the current circumstances. I really enjoyed this one!

Bruce Judisch said...


Wasn't it great? The author has recently signed on with my publisher. I tried to send a note to him through OakTara--not sure if he's gotten it yet. Hope he did.

Annie kind of gets under your skin, doesn't she?

Cheers! Bruce

Anonymous said...

Yes she does!! I was a little shocked when the book ended. I was expecting more to the story. :) I want to know if Annie & Karl were going to make a point of keeping in touch; if Annie was ever going to introduce Karl to her fiance and finally tell him what happened to her during the war. I love this book! I read it in one day...that's how much I enjoyed it. :)

Bruce Judisch said...

I agree. I wanted it to go on, too. I don't know if Jack has a sequel in mind. Dear Enemy came out in 2005, so a sequel is a little late, if that was in his original intent.

Maybe we can talk him into it, you think? ;-)

Cheers! Bruce

stephy said...

I really hope we can talk him into a sequel. I want to know who she chooses!