Rating: 4.5 stars
It’s France, 1915, and Europe has been fighting WWI for a year. Lieutenant Tom Donald and his fellow officer Frank Foden help alleviate both the tedium and the terror by sharing confidences about their family and friends back home. Frank Foden, a confident popular officer with a positive outlook on life, happily shares his letters from home with Tom, including those from his physician wife, a rarity at that time. Letter after letter, arriving sometimes twice a week, enliven their day. Frank and Tom laugh about her “doctor’s scribble” of handwriting and her accounts from home, and soon Tom begins to feel that he knows her as well as Frank. The one thing he doesn’t share with Frank is the knowledge that Tom prefers men to women, a fact that would see him booted from the army and most likely imprisoned.
Then Frank is killed on the front and Tom injured. Tom is sent home to recover and act on a last request from Frank. Frank left several letters for Tom to deliver in person. One to Frank’s mother, and one to a man named Palmer who Tom has never heard Frank mention. Tom’s journey to fulfill his mission will uncover some starting facts about Frank, and his life back home, starting with the fact that everything he knew about the man was a lie.
Promises Made Under Fire is just another fine example of historic fiction from author Charlie Cochrane. Cochrane returns us to the front. It is WWI and England has been fighting for a year. We are given Englishmen under incredible stress and facing imminent death every moment they are in the trenches and yet touches of civilized society still order the soldier’s day, including their officer’s servant who serves them tea and acts as “nursemaid and housekeeper” to both Tom and Frank, a decidedly English detail. And because this is Charlie Cochrane, you can count on the historic details she presents during the story as being accurate as well as interesting. I have always admired the manner in which Cochrane folds her historical facets into her story while bringing it all effortlessly to life in front of us. I could hear the sounds of guns nearby and smell the powder on the air but the main focus is always on her characters.
What amazing characters are laid out before us. Cochrane has a remarkable ear for dialog and her character’s “language” is true for each person and their social status. Here is Bentham, their officers servant, talking about the Jerry’s(Germans):
“He’s probably plotting even when he’s kicking up Bob’s a dying.” (Bentham)
“Bob’s a dying?” (Tom)
“Dancing and frolicking, sir.”
In just those few sentences, you understand immediately that Bentham is lower class, given his colloquialisms, and that Tom is decidedly upper class, given his lack of understanding about the same. Loads of backstory in a few simple phrases, just perfection.
In fact, without realizing it, the reader is absorbing tons of information about the men in the story without having it spelled out for us just through the dialog alone. The front and it’s horrors are quite real as is its impact upon our main characters. In fact there is not one element here that isn’t brought fully to life. This story and its characters, live, react, and painfully try to recover from the devastation the war has wrought upon them and their world.
I love how this story slowly unfolds, giving us time to know and care about Tom and Frank, and Tom’s journey home is a revelation in more than one way. The use of letters is a form of narrative that always charms me and it is used to perfection here to move the story forward. But you never forget that this is a love story, and that love between men is something to be carefully hidden and protected. Discretion is the rule these men live by and the lengths they must go to in order to protect the ones they loved.
This is an absolutely marvelous love story but the end is in keeping with the times and perfectly realistic for the men involved. The more I thought about it the more I appreciated the manner in which Cochrane remained true to her characters, and her period. And leaves us with the possibility of more should she ever wish to return to Tom and see how he is getting on. Put a pot of tea on, place some biscuits on a plate and settle down with Promises Made Under Fire to return to war torn England and a love that dares not speak its name.
cover artist is unknown which is a shame considering how perfect this cover is for the story. Lovely in its detail and design.