REVIEW:  The Other Soldier by Kathy Altman

REVIEW: The Other Soldier by Kathy Altman

Dear Ms. Altman:

I wasn’t sure I was going to read this book but Brie asked me if I would take a look at it after we briefly discussed soldiers marrying their friends’ widows. That’s not what this story is about. It’s about a storyline I’ve never read before. Corporal Reid Macfarland sought out Parker Dean on his first leave in over a year to apologize. Tim Dean, Parker’s husband, was killed by a drone under friendly fire. Reid was the one who sent the drone.

The other soldier Altman

Parker responds with anger because she loved her husband and she’s just struggling to put the death of her husband eighteen months ago behind her. Her daughter has just recently stopped having nightmares. Neither of them need, Parker believes, to have bad memories stirred up nor is she ready to forgive.

Reid would like to write a check to Parker and give her all of his money and the amount of a personal loan he was able to convince a bank to underwrite but Harris Briggs, Parker’s older friend and father figure, convinces Reid to stay. And in the thirty days of leave, Reid helps Parker, her daughter, and Harris, make the greenhouse that Tim Dean had always wanted to own, into a reality.

There is a secondary romance between Harris Briggs and Eugenia, an older divorcee, enjoy a romance too. Eugenia has a lot of money and likes to spend it on those she cares about. Harris is full of a lot of pride and is threatened by Eugenia’s money.

I liked the spiciness of the romance between Briggs and Eugenia. Both are presented as attractive individuals and their attraction for each other is, in part, a physical one. Eugenia thrills at Briggs’ muscular arms. Eugenia is acknowledged as beauty enough to attract men twenty years younger. Many times older romances are presented as sedate, a meeting of the minds. I actually wished the Briggs/Eugenia romance was more torrid but that wasn’t the tone of the story.

It’s a slow developing romance where two parties fall in love against their best intentions. Parker learns to forgive and love again and Reid learns to forgive himself. Reid feels like a criminal. Every time someone thanks him for his service, he cringes. He can barely stand to be around Nat, Parker’s daughter, particularly when Nat mistakenly believes that Reid and her father were friends and goes on to wax rhapsodic about her sweet memories with her father:

Takes grumpy to know grumpy, kid. “Maybe.”

She fiddled with the bracelets on her wrist. “My mom said you came to help ’cause my dad died.”

He didn’t say anything. There was nothing he could say.

“And you didn’t even know him.” She tucked her hands into the back pockets of her bright pink jeans. “I could tell you about him, if you want. Whenever he came home from being deployed he always had to have my mom’s banana muffins. And her meat loaf. He’d ask her to make tons of it and we’d have it with mashed potatoes and peas. I never ate the peas. If she tried to make me I’d feed ‘em to Chance. Anyways she’d make him meat loaf sandwiches with ketchup and cheese for when he went fishing. Sometimes she’d put hard-boiled eggs inside to surprise him. Daddy didn’t like to fish with worms, he used these squiggly, feathery, funny-looking things called flies and—”
Reid closed his eyes. He was in hell. Forget the searing flames and writhing bodies and agonized screaming. This was true damnation, having to listen to a lonely little girl chatter on and on about the father she’d worshipped.

Parker resents how easy it is for Reid to gain acceptance in her small town and how it seems like he is living the life Tim deserved to live. He strikes up friendship with another man who just bought the town’s inn. He has the respect of Harris. Yet, Reid’s tireless work ethic, his ability to shoulder some of the burden, and his persistence breaks down her anger, her resentment and turns it into love.

I loved the way Reid and Harris interacted. Reid reminding Harris of the gift of forgiveness that Harris was always pushing onto him. Parker’s love and respect for her husband isn’t diminished. Tim wasn’t unfaithful or abusive or any thing but loving and genuine which makes Parker’s grief all the more poignant. It also makes it understandable why Parker would want to remarry, to fall in love again even though she fights it early on.

It’s actually a very sweet and tender romance told in an understated but touching fashion. B

Best regards,