Tour of Duty by William H. Coles is a historical novel set in France in the 1960s. Central character Miles Ballard arrives at the US Air Force base and soon gets a taste of the French hostility towards Americans. Nevertheless, his work as a physician is all-consuming as he attends to not only General Thomas Read but many who seek his medical expertise. Miles’s life is interwoven with the other military doctor, Oliver Stern, and his wife Ingrid who is writing a book about the Holocaust. The general’s daughter, Alyce Read, is a journalist writing about the same topic. Coles’ telling of Miles’s unrequited love for Emily is bittersweet and maintains a strong thread right into later chapters when the woman who shunned him many years ago seeks to reconcile after 20 years of an unhappy marriage, an uncomfortable mirror to Ingrid who admits to being unhappy in her marriage. This is just one of the many examples of Cole’s strong story-telling ability.
William H. Coles writes with a lovely spread of rich dialogue and colorful narrative that effortlessly moves the story along. As well as literary, Coles’s work is also educational. I had not heard of the Milice, a paramilitary organization set up in France, and found this to be an interesting piece of history. His characters are quite believable and add to the contextual authenticity of the story. Coles’s knack for overlaying historical facts with a fictional narrative makes it easy for the reader to consume. I found Tour of Duty most enjoyable and would recommend it to fans of historical fiction.