When we first meet Thomas Harding in 1968, he is facing what he believes will be his last Christmas and mourning the loss of an unnamed woman who clearly meant a great deal to him. He carries with him bundles of letters, which he plans to re-read on his trip to Paris. The letters sweep us back to the very beginning of World War I, then trace the entire course of the conflict. One of them he has not yet seen.
Most of the correspondence takes place between Thomas and Evie Elliott, the younger sister of his best friend, Will. We see the early hope and idealism of the troops fade as the realities of trench warfare sink in. We watch from the inside the transformation of womens roles in society because of the absence of men. We become caught up in the developing love between Evie and Thomas, the grief suffered by families who lose their loved ones to war, the frustration of being left behind, unable to take part. We revel in the guilty pleasure of riffling through other peoples things, reading words not meant for our eyes.
Other voices fill in circumstances that Evie and Thomas take for granted or have no reason to know. And the drama slowly builds as Armistice Day approaches, and the war that was supposed to end all wars creeps to a close. The letters are vivid and real, each voice distinct. And by the end of Last Christmas in Paris (William Morrow, 2017), Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb have shepherded us along a journey through the tragedy of war and the triumph of survival, the experience of love lost and gained.
C. P. Lesley is the author of seven novels, including Legends of the Five Directions (The Golden Lynx, The Winged Horse, The Swan Princess, and forthcoming in December 2017, The Vermilion Bird), a historical fiction series set in 1530s Russia, during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Find out more about her at http://www.cplesley.com.