Nine years is a long time to wait for a book from a favorite author. And that’s just what happened to me with Jonathan Hull. After loving LOSING JULIA (2000) and THE DISTANCE FROM NORMANDY (2003), there was no new book from Jonathan Hull until a few weeks ago. When THE DEVOTED crossed my desk, I made a quick visit to his website and saw a note that he has been suffering from the long-term effects of a bout with Lyme disease, which has affected his writing stamina. But ah, THE DEVOTED is a treat worth waiting for as Jonathan proves that the story writing chops he had with his prior work is still in evidence.
Here, Ryan Brooks is the sole survivor of a head-on car accident in a small town in Wyoming that killed his parents while they were on a vacation when he was just 13. Ryan remembers being pulled from the burning car by a stranger who saved his life --- a man he later comes to know as Mike O’Donnell. Through the years, he and Mike have exchanged birthday and Christmas cards that mark the special bond between them. But when one year a card doesn’t arrive, Ryan reaches out and learns that Mike is dying. Ryan travels to see him one more time to thank him for saving his life and meets Mike’s Italian wife, Alessandra, and his daughter, Shannon.
Mike’s deathbed confession shatters Ryan’s view of what happened the day of the crash, but that’s not the only secret in the O’Donnell house. Alessandra has some secrets of her own from her life in Italy during World War II and how she came to know Mike. No spoilers here as I do not want to ruin this book for you. I will share that Jonathan writes of World War II in Italy with some brilliant descriptions of small-time life there. Love letters between Mike’s parents while his dad was at war punctuate the book, and we see different threads of love stories all woven together here. Part of LOSING JULIA took place during World War I, and THE DISTANCE FROM NORMANDY was set, of course, during World War II, but each has a contemporary setting as well, which gives each book a special charm.
Many times I see Jonathan’s work and that of Nicholas Evans to be similar. The same deep-seeded emotional journey that readers had with THE HORSE WHISPERER is what touches you with a Jonathan Hull novel. I have read a lot of books since 2003, thus the fact that I remember snippets from both LOSING JULIA and THE DISTANCE FROM NORMANDY speaks to why I am such a huge fan of Jonathan’s work. And he is working on a fourth novel, thus I am encouraged that I will not be waiting another nine years for the next book!