Sunday book review for Judith Barrow’s compelling story, Pattern of Shadows.
In March 1944, the war is taking its toll on 22-year-old nursing sister Mary Howarth – rows are tearing her family apart, air raids are hitting nearby Manchester and the darkness of the blackout is smothering her. Her younger sister Ellen says she should be having a good time while she can, but her job at a prison camp for the housing and treatment of German POWs, rewarding as it is, leaves little time for pleasure. And there is the added worry of her much-loved brother Tom who is suffering the indignity of imprisonment at Wormwood Scrubs where he is reviled as a Conscientious Objector.
Mary feels trapped by her responsibilities at home and is tired of hearing from everyone that she is ‘married to her job’. So when Frank Shuttleworth, a guard at the camp, turns up at the Howarth house and reveals that he has been watching Mary for weeks with an eye to walking out with her, she is more than a little flattered. Frank, a southerner who claims he was invalided out of the army after being injured at Dunkirk, is a good-looking man alright and, for the first time in years, she starts to feel alive. But there’s something about Frank that she doesn’t understand and doesn’t like…
He detests her nursing ‘Huns’ even though to Mary, ‘patients are patients whoever they are’, and his simmering aggression starts to drive a wedge between them. When violence finally erupts and Mary gives him his marching orders, Frank is not the kind of man to take no for an answer.
‘You’ll not get rid of me that easily,’ he warns.
And when he discovers that Mary is about to embark on an affair with Peter Schormann, a German doctor at the POW camp, Frank determines to exact a deadly revenge…
5 Stars A Heartfelt Story of Love in War
This engrossing story depicts one family and their struggles to get by in war-time Lancashire, England. Mary, the eldest daughter and protagonist carries the weight of worrying about her siblings: Patrick with a terrible temper, Ellen, her self-centered sister, and Tom her brother in prison for being against the war. Mary is also on guard, protecting her mother from her emotionally and physically abusive father. Mary is a nursing sister in a prisoner hospital. Her compassion extends to the wounded enemy soldiers and one prisoner doctor, Peter, who she develops sentimental feelings for.
In a time of hatred, prejudice and abuse, Mary sacrifices her own desires in efforts to do her best to support her family and avoid the repercussions of falling for the German doctor, leaving her heartbroken.
Barrow brings us richly developed characters who will draw on our empathies and steal our hearts, while leaving us feeling that some of the characters we love to hate. These are all good elements to great writing.
As the story unfolds with relationships formed with these damaged souls, it keeps us reading till the end, hoping the evil will get their just desserts and Mary will find peace and happiness.