Richard Bausch's taut novel tells us what happens when civilian soldiers go to war. It's a powerfully atmospheric story about three American soldiers sent up a mountain in Italy near Cassino during the brutal winter of 1944. Their mission: see what the Germans are doing on the other side. Their mental state: conflicted by the shooting of a German woman they witnessed just before they left. Was it murder? An act of war? Should they report it when they return or simply fold it into their psyches? They struggle with the moral dilemma while they slog their way up the cold, miserable mountain.
Bausch's ability to bring the reader fully into his story is well-demonstrated in this book. The tension builds page by page until the wholly satisfying climax, the niggling arguments among the men are just repetitive and just disconcerting enough to make the reader angry, and the perfectly-mounted descriptions of the cold, hard rain, the wet, view-obliterating snow make you wish (just like the soldiers) that you were somewhere else.
Ambiguity is a beautiful thing in Bausch's hands. The squad's guide, Angelo, could be a simple peasant or a German spy--or something else entirely. The protagonist, Corporal Marson, could be a baseball-playing All-American hero or a morally-bereft corporal looking for the easy way out. How these and the other sources of tension in the book are resolved propels the reader through to the end.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds: A Novel of Scandal, Love and Death in the Congo