Farndale's novel begins innocently enough with a trip to the Galapagos Islands, as Zoologist David Kennedy and Nancy, the mother of his daughter, face a horrifying scenario as their plane crashes into the ocean. It is David's reaction to this moment that sets the stage for a multi-layered story of courage, failure and forgiveness. In that moment, David's decision is instinctive, but will deeply affect his relationship with Nancy and the way he views himself as a man and as a father. An atheist, David's survival- and his heroism- are further impacted by an otherworldly event after the crash that he describes as a "hallucination", one tests his deepest-held beliefs. And while David and Nancy now face a challenged relationship on their return to London, Farndale reaches even farther into Kennedy's past, resurrecting the experiences of his great-grandfather in World War I, as Andrew Kennedy survives a punishing battle in France and has an encounter with a stranger who leads him from danger, never to be seen again.
The appearance of this figure is at the core of the novel, known by soldiers as the "Angel of Mons" in World War I, or a vaguely familiar person in David's more recent ordeal. Are these figures angels, apparitions or merely creations of the mind in the stress of such pivotal and life-threatening moments? For David, everything he believes is called into question, the political climate in London rife with dissent and the ongoing threat of terrorism, the city beleaguered by suspicion and fear, as public enmity towards Muslims grows to dangerous proportions. In his moment of life-or-death, David learns his limitations, as does his great-grandfather, Andrew, the author exploring the nature of crisis and its aftermath in the context of each man's environment.
The chapters about World War I and the character of Andrew Kennedy are refreshing topics for examination, a war not much discussed or the terrible cost in lives of those who fought for their countries. And in a family where military honor carries significant weight, as in the Kennedy's, Andrew Kennedy hides a dark secret, his traumatic experience lost to time and memory. Farndale connects past and present through his two protagonists, critical decisions made under duress and the significance of men's religious beliefs, or lack of, an obscure landscape where the boundaries of human nature are expanded and the rigidity of ideology demolished by circumstance, the murky territory between left to personal interpretation. Luan Gaines/2010.