Monday, December 2, 2019

"Mercy Road"

Ann Howard Creel writes historical novels about strong female characters facing seemingly impossible obstacles and having to make life-changing decisions. In her novel The River Widow, a former tarot-card reader turned widow and stepmother must escape the clutches of an evil family while also facing the crime she herself has committed. In The Whiskey Sea, a fierce young woman becomes one of the only female rumrunners on the Atlantic Coast during Prohibition. And in While You Were Mine, a New York City nurse must give up the child she has raised as her own during World War II.

Creel applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mercy Road, and reported the following:
From page 69 (with a few paragraphs before and after included, so that it makes more sense):
The next day, Cass and I took a taxi to automobile supply houses and procured the necessities and tools for all three ambulances. The doctors had trusted us to stock the vehicles and equip them for anything we might encounter on the roads ahead. After we’d dragged back or arranged deliveries for everything we needed, we took a couple of hours to visit Notre-Dame, the gardens of the Tuileries, and Napoleon’s tomb.

Eve had apparently tired of Kitty and Lottie’s company, or maybe she wanted to see more of France’s sights instead of its shops, because she asked if she could join us. A diminutive blond whose freckles covered her face all the way to her hairline, she could’ve passed for a schoolgirl, although she was twenty-three, like me.

As we walked the boulevards and parks, Eve tended to fall a few steps behind us, and I couldn’t figure out if she liked to lag behind or if she lived for the most part in her own world. She had purchased a small Paris guidebook, and she read as she tagged along.

I could’ve remained on the Pont Neuf for hours looking down at the smooth flow of the river that calmed my nerves about the date coming up that night, but we had much still to see, and we also purchased postcards to send home.

We took a taxi to Montmartre, where Papa had told me the artists congregated, but a waiter informed us that the artists’ turf had moved to the cafés of Montparnasse. Therefore we splurged on another taxi and headed to Café de la Rotonde, which according to Eve, Pablo Picasso frequented. There, Eve finally joined the conversation. “Did you know that when the Tuileries gardens first opened to the public, they barred some people? No beggars, lackeys, and soldiers.”

“Heavens,” I said.

“What are lackeys?” asked Cass.

“I think it’s the service class, such as servants and footmen,” Eve answered.

“Footmen?” Cass asked, then chuckled. “Maybe yesterday’s footmen are today’s drivers.”

I laughed. “Yes, perhaps we wouldn’t have been allowed. But I don’t understand banning soldiers.”

Indeed, the American soldier in France commanded a lot of respect. Whereas the French and British soldiers often appeared war-weary, like haggard ghosts of themselves, the American soldier wore a clean uniform and polished boots and smoked prized American-made cigarettes. He knew he would encounter danger, but he kept everything light with jokes and laughter. Other soldiers looked up to him, girls flirted with him, and children followed him around.

That thought swept me away for a while, the American soldier Captain Brohammer on my mind. I had guessed his age to be about thirty-one or thirty-two; he seemed like a youngster to have already reached the rank of captain. His dashing appearance made me think of Swedish warriors, and I could imagine him in a former life slaying dragons and sea serpents with a shining sword. My hands started trembling, and I put them under the table in my lap. I hadn’t gone on a date since high school.

Cass’s groans brought me back to the moment. Eve pointed at her guidebook and told us that France had always been a war zone. She talked about Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, and Joan of Arc. “This part of the country has been the site of sieges, marches, battlegrounds, and the war camps of France’s enemies going back to the beginning of recorded time.”

Cass looked around the café. “Does anyone have some paper?” she asked the air. “I seem to have wandered into a class on French history, but I forgot paper, and I need to take some notes.”

I held my breath, but Eve, a good sport it turned out, only smiled and continued talking.

Cass held up her hands. “Wait a minute. Are you always like this?” she asked Eve.

“Most of the time,” Eve answered.

Turning to me, Cass said, “If we ever have to ride doubled up, she’s going with you.”

I laughed.

Eve wove her hands together on the tabletop and leaned in. To Cass she said, “If you and I ever have to ride doubled up, I’ll do the driving.”

I liked this girl.

Cass gave a little whoop. “Not on your life.”

“I’ll wager I’m better.”

“Behind the wheel?” Cass shook her head. “What foolish fancy.”

“Speaking of fancies, do you race?”

Cass paled, obviously astonished. “Are you challenging me to a race?”

“Now, girls,” I interrupted them, but the smile wouldn’t leave my face. I hadn’t shared a laugh with friends in a long time.
This scene is typical of the lighter tone of the book before these ambulance drivers reach the war zone, and later, the front lines. I hope you enjoy it.
Visit Ann Howard Creel's website.

The Page 69 Test: The River Widow.

My Book, The Movie: Mercy Road.

--Marshal Zeringue