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Last Salute (Bella Books) begins with Pamela Wright coming home from her shift in the ER of Chicago’s University of Illinois Medical Center mentally exhausted, and feeling as though she has accomplished nothing. She’s just getting into a reheated plate of spaghetti and meatballs when the doorbell rings. Two officers in full Army dress are there to tell her that her sister, a medical doctor, was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The last surviving member of the family, Pam must now go to Ann Arbor, her hometown, to plan her sister’s funeral.
Pam had always looked up to her older sister, Laura. Both had been stars in high school sports, good students, and both had gone on to become doctors. Only Laura, though, had gone into the Army. Laura had downplayed the dangers of battle, saying that being an Army doctor was the safest job in the military.
Trish Tomlinson, a teacher at an Ann Arbor high school, had been Laura’s high school sweetheart. They had even gone to the senior ball together. The Army was what broke them up. Don’t ask, don’t tell was still the law when Laura joined, and Trish could not handle going back into the closet. She also had no idea why anyone would want to go to Afghanistan. Now, Laura is dead and Trish is determined to help Pam with the funeral and the last details of saying goodbye to a loved one.
The reader (and Trish) find out that Pam had a crush on Trish even as Trish was involved with Laura. Now, years have gone by, both women are older, and Pam is still quite smitten. They also both share an anger at the Army for the death of Laura. Pam has received the letter Laura wrote to her when she went to Afghanistan. (All military going to a war zone are required to write a letter to a loved one, which will be delivered to that loved only if they die in the line of duty.) She has also received a journal Laura was keeping. Reading the letter and the journal, as well as processing the loss, causes both women to do a lot of introspection, and to see the truth behind some of their life decisions. As they share their thoughts and feelings, Pam and Trish develop feelings for each other, feelings each feels guilty about.
The Army has a program for grieving loved ones of soldiers killed in action, which allows the loved ones to go to the war zone where the death occurred. Trish and Pam take part in the program and travel to Afghanistan where they are able to speak with Army personnel who knew Laura, and Pam is able to help a severely wounded soldier who has to be flown out of the war zone.
Richardson does a great job in Last Salute at showing character development in Trish and Pam. Both women grow and change as the story is told. She also, in the section in Afghanistan, shows that she has done her homework in the vivid descriptions she gives of the Army camp, the terrain, the dust, and the motivation of the soldiers. She doesn’t stop there, however. She has obviously interviewed many returning Army personnel, as she shows in the final sections of the book. She uses both her words and her heart to show what programs are available to them, and what their needs are in readjusting to being back in the United States. Last Salute is a powerful book which I truly enjoyed. The love scenes are well done, as are the characters and the story. This is a definite “must read,” as we are still losing soldiers in Afghanistan.
By Tracey Richardson
Paperback, 9781594933721, 234 pp.