Cross the Line
The overwhelming feeling I got when reading Cross the Line was that it was a first draft. Not a bad first draft, but one in need of lots of refinement and judicious pruning. However, it’s not a first draft, but a finished product, available for you to purchase. And unless you like to read books with a red pen in hand, correcting as you go, this is probably not the book for you.
The story takes place during World War I, when American Josie LeMay journeys to France to serve as a nurse in the RMAC. It starts in 1917, when America had declared war against Germany – but before the troops were actually trained and participating. Josie feels a duty to help the war effort because her brother is in the army and her grandfather died on the Lusitania. On the way across the Atlantic, Josie meets a handsome doctor, Keno Beauvais, who doesn’t like the idea of women serving abroad as nurses. He lets Josie come anyway since she is qualified. When the ship is torpedoed by a U-boat, an evil nurse pushes Josie into the water as she is about to step into a lifeboat. Keno jumps in after her, and they both float on the Atlantic for three days until they are rescued by the same U-boat that torpedoed them. Most of the Germans treat them kindly, and eventually the captain tells them he will let them out by the coast of Ireland. Just as he surfaces to let them out, boat is hit by a depth charge and everyone dies except Josie and Keno.
It takes almost half the book for Josie and Keno to get to the front. Once they get there, Josie helps injured soldiers, risks her life repeatedly as a stretcher-bearer, falls in love with Keno, gets captured by the Germans and treats their wounded, and returns to the British forces, where she suffers more losses. I don’t want to give the entire plot away, but let’s just say a great nickname for Josie would be “Typhoid Mary.” It’s best not to get too attached to anyone except Josie and Keno.
That’s assuming you could get attached to anyone, which is unlikely. The writing style makes it difficult to get into the story, especially at first. Awkward sentence structure, poor word choice, and spelling errors are everywhere, especially in the first half of the book. Commas are particularly ubiquitous, and they make the prose read like Hemingway in reverse. Here’s just one example:
“Still puzzled by the courtesies they received, he shook his head, too tired to figure it all out, and moved aft, the captain’s bunk separated from the officers’ quarters by a mass of lockers.”
The writing itself improves somewhat as the book goes on, almost as if Clark is hitting her stride. But while the book gets easier to read, it isn’t any more enjoyable. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, and Josie and Keno were the worst of the lot. Josie is spunky. Too spunky. Deathwish spunky. She runs around like she is impervious to bullets (which she is, at least at first), and when she’s captured by the Germans her first response is to hit them and refuse to go where they tell her to go. When one of them hits her in the mouth, Keno’s first thought is “maybe she’ll shut up now,” and frankly that is what I was thinking (and hoping) too. Keno may have more common sense, but he’s no prize. He is rude, nasty, and sarcastic. He doesn’t want to make a commitment to Josie, because there’s a war on and they could both die. He has lustful thoughts at odd times, like when Josie has been severely injured and is unconscious. He does try to convince Josie that they might have some sort of temporary relationship – kind of a “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” kind of deal, and he spends the night with her. I tried to figure out whether or not they had sex, but I really couldn’t tell. If that isn’t enough, Keno spends most of the book believing that Josie has a lover named Paul. Paul is (of course) her brother.
There are other problems. The villains in the book are way over the top. They push people into the ocean on purpose, kick dogs for sport, and shoot at people because it’s funny. There’s no particular villain of the book, just a series of interchangeable brutes who put in cameo appearances. Josie understands several German soldiers, and they understand Josie, but we never know how this happens.
I did like the World War I setting of the book, as it’s not one you see often. Clark includes some interesting details about army slang and life in the trenches. Unfortunately, nothing else about the book works. As a rough draft or an idea for a book, it has possibilities. As a finished product, it is nowhere near ready for prime time.