The book opens with a series of establishing scenes, introducing us not only to the main players in the story but also other men and women who give the impression that they're the lead characters in their own novels somewhere. We meet the violent but charming Archie Ferguson and town gossip, Aggie. Meanwhile, Jeanie is dumped by her boyfriend before he can dump her because he's not inclined towards women--a dangerous admission in 1914. As the war in Europe heats up and men start to rush to enlist, a mean-spirited rumor about Jeanie's boyfriend, Henry, fancying Archie leads to Archie hanging Henry from a tree after breaking his neck. Aggie suspects that Archie is involved, but everyone is more than content to dismiss the outed Henry as a suicide.
Higgins switches back and forth between Milltown and the women left behind and the French front to which Archie and his accomplice flee. Archie manages to get the British Army to protect him. After all, who would listen to a known gossip persecuting a brave man fighting at the Front? Barring accidents and bad luck, Archie is vicious enough to survive three years of trench warfare. Believe it or not, Higgins manages to crank up an already tense story a few notches. Before he left for France, Archie left a knife on Aggie's pillow with a threat and then burned her house down. You just know he's going to come back for a final showdown with her.
Meanwhile, Jeanie and Micky are facing hardships organized by a self-appointed committee of women who shame men who've chosen not to enlist. The opposition keeps them together long enough for Jeanie to get in the family way and for Micky to be arrested for resisting the draft when it rolls around. (At the time, conscientious objection was a prison-worthy offense.) It's a heartbreaking story, complicated by the fact that Jeanie falls for someone else while Micky is prison.
I liked the book and enjoyed reading it. But when I hit the amazing ending, I fell in love with this book. I really hope that other Americans get to read it.