For Roger Cottigham, the war has yet to end. His eldest brother, Hugh, was killed and now his parents can barely stand to look at their remaining son, hating him for daring to survive. It doesn’t help that Roger was a conscientious objector. He did his bit for the war by serving in military intelligence, but he considers himself a coward and wears that guilt like a brand.
When his brother’s fiancé raises questions about the manner of Hugh’s death, Roger decides to investigate, owing it to himself and to a brother he never fully understood. He moves into a rooming house under an assumed name to watch Matthew Connaught, a possible traitor. Matthew should have died in Hugh Cottingham’s place, but a freak accident kept him sidelined. Matthew’s war ended at Passchendaele with the loss of his arm and he does his best to stay chipper, knowing he’s lucky to be alive. When Roger meets Matthew, he finds it hard to believe the plucky, good-natured man could have anything to do with treason or with Hugh’s death. But Roger is determined to find the truth, even if means hurting an innocent man.
To Love a Traitor has plenty to recommend it despite some frustrations I had with the plot. Both Roger and Matthew are well-drawn characters who are each sympathetic and engaging. Roger is a man driven by his own perceived failings and some need for redemption. He finds it, in his own way, though we’re left with the sensation of some unspoken and unfinished business between him and his now deceased brother. It’s hard not to like Matthew who has remained so cheerful in the face of war, devastating injury, and personal betrayal. He tends to love absolutely and without fear, which is admirable though not always necessarily in keeping with the historical perspective of the book.
The bare bones of the plot is compelling and straightforward. A man sets out to find if his brother was betrayed and sent to his death intentionally. In this regard, the author does a good job of drawing us in and making us care about the situation and the people involved. But the basis for Matthew’s supposed treason is weak at best and there seems to be a rather unbelievable leap from what might have been done to the need for an investigation. Additionally the resolution and the truth of the apparent treason felt forced, rushed, and lacking in support. Everything is resolved too neatly and too quickly within the confines of a single chapter. There doesn’t even seem to be much purpose in the entire discovery. Had Matthew and Roger been forced to accept the realities of the unknown, it would have made for a more believable and poignant ending.
To Love a Traitor has a pair of excellent characters and an uneven, but sweet plot. The end of the book felt too rushed and unnecessary, but the first two thirds of the book is a great deal more gratifying. Despite the fact that To Love a Traitor founders a bit, anyone who enjoys angst and men struggling to come to terms with the past will find plenty to like here.