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(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!)