Fresh from law school, American Army Lieutenant Will Connelly takes a detour from his cushy desk job into the freezing trenches of Europe’s Western Front as World War II wanes. Embarrassed to be raised to captain, Will leads soldiers who know more about battle than he does. He admires his men for sticking to their posts despite certain death. Survival leaves him feeling guilty, especially after earning a Silver Star he thinks should posthumously be theirs.
The plot becomes compelling a third of the way into the novel when Will liberates a concentration camp. Penance and horror about the Holocaust cause Will to stay in Germany to aid war crime tribunals staff. Then he accidentally falls for the daughter of a war criminal.
Characterization is strong in THE SINGING FOREST. Will is an appealing good guy who is honorable to all, including the POWs he interrogates in German. Despite his Philadelphia Main Line background, he avoids privilege. As concentration camp memories haunt him, Will stumbles over the post-war rubble of Munich seeking alcohol served in makeshift pubs. He is angered by the inhumanity he has witnessed but remains kind. A gentleman, he protects starving fräuleins instead of treating them like prey. That’s how he meets Emilse, another of C.S.P. McNulty’s likable characters.
Cigarettes are like gold in postwar Germany. Frail, yet determined, Emilse endangers herself to obtain them from randy American soldiers. She sells the cigarettes to feed her mother and younger sister. Her Nazi father is imprisoned. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to read THE SINGING FOREST without regularly flinching at awkward errors including incorrect verb constructions, misspellings, mistakes in word choice and typos. Emilse tells Will she is “quite vein.” He observes soldiers “mulling along” not “milling about.” During a battle scene, Will hears “a grimace in the foxhole.”
The author drops articles and verb endings with abandon. He makes countless tiny but irritating typos like losing an “r” in “Norville” to spell the Belgium village as “Noville.” This is a big “No” for a novel that would otherwise earn a big “Yes.” Furthermore, in historical fiction, poor copyediting makes you wonder about the accuracy of facts woven into the tapestry. Carelessness creates doubt.
THE SINGING FOREST features powerful storytelling and strong characterization, but weak copyediting and passages heavy on history slow its momentum.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader