I've already confessed to being a softie for stories of the Greatest Generation, but that aside, this is a marvelous book. Strong storyline, excellent writing, impeccable research--A Distant Melody has it all. In fact, Sarah Sundin has set the bar so high in this, her debut novel, that I'm a little nervous for her follow-on work. (Not really)
The story opens in 1942 with plain Allie Miller, heiress to a fabulously wealthy estate and a disasterously arranged engagement, visiting friends in the rural California countryside. There she meets Walt Novak, an unremarkable B-17 pilot on furlough from flight training. A friendship ensues and they leave behind promises to write each other, as Walt heads to England to fight the Luftwaffe over Europe and Allie returns home to fight herself over her future. Over the months and the miles, their faith and their relationship blossom and grow, albeit hindered by stutter-steps mostly of their own making. Finally, Walt returns home from England to an unexpected and breath-robbing climax.
By the bottom of page two, I knew I was going to like Sarah Sundin the Author. Smooth phrasing, great word choice, clever dialog, yes. But most impressive was her ability to finesse a consistent, yet subtle, thematic metaphor throughout the story, one hinted at by the title of the book. I was reminded of a marvelous cinematographic technique used in filming the movie The Age of Innocence, where the poignancy and theme of the story were underscored by brief snippets of seemingly unrelated graphical representations: a shifting collapse of burnt-through logs in a waning fireplace, the cold ash of a dying cigar breaking off into the ashtray. Ms. Sundin employs her obvious familiarity with the elements of music in the same way and to the same effect. Really well done.
Finally, Ms. Sundin knows her aeronautical and military lore. Full and accurate descriptions of the dynamics of powered flight, the anatomy and personality of the B-17 Flying Fortress, and the intensity and horror of aerial combat in World War II, set in concrete her right to author this story. Sound mechanical? Instructive? Dry? Oh, my goodness, no. She doesn't teach you about flying, you feel the wind tangle your hair during an open-cockpit landing. You don't mentally picture a Fort's cramped bubble turrent, your muscles stiffen in sympathy with the belly gunner. You don't read about somebody getting peppered by flak shrapnel through the plexiglass nose, you grab your leg and look for blood. She's that good.
You've probably gotten the picture that I liked this book. If you're looking for a story with as much romance, faith and action as you can possibly get into 415 pages, you've found it. No, you don't need to be a World War II buff to love this book. You just need to love great books.