If you have read many of my previous reviews then it is no secret that I am a fan of J.L. Merrow. I feel her writing style is crisp, witty, and well planned with plots that move swiftly and smack of realism. What then to say about a Merrow historical novel? Normally I shy away from this genre often due to the inconsistencies one can find here. It is hard to write accurate historical fiction and not have some modern colloquialisms or phrases sneak in throwing the reader out of the era and the story off its pace. But I must tell you that Merrow hits the nail on the head with her latest story, To Love A Traitor.
Set in post WWI, the story follows the younger brother of a lost soldier as he tries to track down the man who may have been both a spy and the one that would be saved from the very mission that would cost Roger’s brother his life. With the backing of a former high ranking army official and his brother’s fiancée, Roger decides to track down Matthew Connaught. Matthew had a few pieces of circumstantial evidence stacked up against him—one of which was that he was conveniently shot in the arm the day before he was to accompany Roger’s brother on the mission that cost him his life. Roger changes his name and takes a room in the same boarding house as Matthew.
However, as time goes on, it is harder and harder for Roger to believe that Matthew could have been a spy and traitor. In fact, as the two draw close, Roger finally comes clean about his being a conscientious objector from the war and the hateful distance it has put between he and his parents. The two men begin to take comfort from each other and realize that in a world that would imprison them for their sexual tendencies, they may have found a kindred spirit in each other. In fact, they may have found love…but what will happen when Matthew finds out that Roger is a fraud? Will either ever truly be able to ever fully trust the other?
There was something remarkably fascinating about this novel, To Love A Traitor, that kept me glued to the page. There was no huge mystery here, but rather a subtle chipping away at the puzzling question of who really was the traitor Roger was pursuing. Wrapped around this confusing question was a growing love story that was tremendously sweet and tender. Matthew was fragile in many ways and yet within him was an unquenchable joy, a desire to live despite having lost an arm in the war. Roger (called George, which was his middle name and an attempt to disguise who he was from Matthew) had never really experience the charms of being with another man romantically or sexually. In many ways both of these men were innocents with terrible secrets to hide.
As the plot slowly unfolds, Roger is faced with one opportunity after another where he could reveal his masquerade to Matthew, but each time the idea that this could be the man responsible for his brother’s death held him back. When the big reveal finally occurs, it is devastating to read and the repercussions nearly kill the romance between the two men before it can even fully take root. Here is where Merrow’s writing is perhaps the most poignant and dramatic. Filled with such pain and sadness, the final chapters of this story leave this relationship hanging in the balance and rather than force a bright and happy ever after, we are given a sweet ending loaded with possibility. It was so well done!
I must say that I enjoyed this piece of historical fiction very much. To Love A Traitor turned out to be a tender romance that swept me into a long ago era where love was forced to hide in the shadows but still burned brightly.