Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, which I also loved, has produced another comforting installment for those of us inclined to cuddle up under a blanket. Whether you are suffering from the flu or simply trying not to think about current events, THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR offers an idyllic, Downton Abbey-ish escape. With a twist, of course. Because, war.
When Beatrice Nash arrives at the train station (a classic hook: Where has she come from? Why? What is she meant to do in her new location?), we are immediately drawn into the action, and what could be better than an intelligent young woman—parentless, strong-willed, and fluent in Latin—moving to a small coastal town in England right before the Great War to launch us into all sorts of fascinating scrapes?
Though full of typical British tropes (Am I the only one who notices that most fictional British aunts are named Agatha?) and somewhat predictable, this book still manages to feel suspenseful. And it has quick-witted dialogue. The characters don’t hesitate to say what they think, especially about one another. And in such a small town, where everyone knows everyone and some folks are full of themselves, that can be pretty hilarious.
It’s a perfect example of how lovable characters can make a book lovable.