In the latter stages of the fight against Nazi Germany during World War II, a young American soldier joins forces with a buddy to solve several puzzling mysteries that crop up between the ferociously fought battles. The story traces his inner growth.
Narrator Timothy Cole was born and raised in Louisiana, where his family runs a country store. Volunteering for the Army in 1942 at the age of 17, he begins training as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division, but he is a poor marksman and slow on his feet. His buddies deride him for being nothing but an overgrown child and begin addressing him as “Kid.” Thanks to Tim’s grandmother, who learned to cook as a kitchen maid in an English gentleman’s house and whose prepared deli dishes are customer favorites in the country store, Tim likes to eat as well as to cook, so he volunteers for kitchen duty. Then, in June 1944, the Airborne Division takes part in D-Day. The main arc of the story follows the trials and tribulations of Tim and his fellow cooks between the invasion of Normandy and the end of the war.
The progress of the war is portrayed with historical accuracy as a backdrop for the fictitious yet fully plausible characters and events. Word goes out that the Normandy invasion was a tremendous success, but more than 1,500 of the 6,600 paratroopers who jumped either died or were reported missing in action, and some 2,300 others were wounded. After the landing, German troops continue to fiercely resist the Allied advance. In early 1945 an exploding howitzer shell kills Tim’s best friend and fellow cook Edward Greenberg, and puts Tim himself in a coma for two weeks with a large shrapnel wound in his side. Until this point, Tim had been playing Watson to Ed’s Holmes as they went about solving a series of mysteries, so this represents a significant turning point in the tale.
A different mystery is solved in each of five chapters. In Chapter 1, a quick-witted soldier named Linus goes around gathering used parachutes and somehow turns them into a large supply of French cidre (hard cider). What is his secret? In Chapter 2, 6,600 pounds of powdered eggs that are supposed to be for the troops disappear overnight. In Chapter 3, a Dutch couple offer the use of their home to Allied troops, but then appear to have left their small daughter and son behind and committed suicide together. In Chapter 4, a mysterious ghost appears night after night to slash soldiers in the back. And in Chapter 5, taking place after Ed has died, Tim plays the lone sleuth and aids the escape of a German man who has been living among the troops disguised as an American soldier named Dunhill for a year.
As each of these stories unfolds amid the fog of war, light is cast on the psychological stresses the soldiers must endure, on the questions of when war or killing is just, and on the extreme suffering of civilians in wartime. Seventy years after the hostilities came to an end, author Nowaki Fukamidori pours heart and soul into describing every action and move of the soldiers with compelling verisimilitude.