With able-bodied young men off to fight in World War II, the tasks of keeping Great Britain fed and clothed falls to civilians. Every inch of available land is planted with some kind of crop. Valerie Eliot works as a land girl – helping out on a nearby farm doing the heavy work for an aging farmer. When a nearby air base contracts with the farmer for as many eggs as his hens produce, Val becomes the delivery person. On her very first visit to the air base Val meet Mike, a U.S. Air Force pilot stationed there. Even as their friendship blossoms, Val finds herself rescuing a Border Collie who is being mistreated by its owner. To keep the pup away from his cruel owner Mike agrees to care for the dog – named Peter Woodhouse – at the base where he becomes a favorite mascot for the fly-boys. Not content with waiting for the return of the pilots, Peter Woodhouse is allowed a spot on their reconnaissance flights. Until the day when the plane Mike is flying crashes behind enemy lines in a ball of flames. All on board are reported as dead.
Back in England Val, who is now engaged to Mike and is pregnant with his child, learns of her beloved’s demise. She turns to her aunt and her cousin Willy for support, little knowing that her American pilot and his dog have survived and are being hidden by the Belgian Resistance. They pass their days with the fear of being discovered. But when Peter Woodhouse befriends a German corporal named Ubi, things change. Ubi and Mike form an erstwhile comradeship that will continue long after the war.
McCall-Smith’s latest offering teaches us that beneath the skin and our cultural difference we are basically the same. Although distance separates both Mike and Ubi they both take wives and have sons: wives who love them unconditionally and sons who grown into strong young men. The author leaves us with these final thoughts: “Love grows stronger. Love lasts a lifetime, and beyond.”
As with all of McCall-Smith’s stories this one is full of authentic, down-to-earth people with whom we can easily identify. The tale moves along at a steady pace and holds the reader’s attention. The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse is a quiet gem of a story that will leave you fulfilled. The story’s message is this: there is good to be found in everyone.
Rating: 4.5 stars
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