In her first novel, Helen Simonson has created a charming and engaging story of the hazards of English country life. The residents of the village of Edgecombe St. Mary are realistic and sharply defined, including Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), who at first appears to be a curmudgeon but turns out to have a heart of gold.
We meet Major Pettigrew as he has been told of his only brother’s demise. This shock brings him in close contact with Mrs. Ali, the proprietor of the village shop. As they get to know each other, Major Pettigrew begins to feel more warmly toward Mrs. Ali than he would have thought possible after the death of his wife six years earlier. Along the way, they both must deal with mean gossip and the expectations of their families.
In getting to know Mrs. Ali better, Major Pettigrew becomes acquainted with her nephew, Abdul Wahid, a stoic man in a difficult situation—and suddenly, Major Pettigrew’s life becomes rather complicated. Before long, he has bigger things to worry about than reuniting a pair of guns that had been his father’s. He finds his very way of life threatened by a new building development and literally has a life-or-death situation on his hands when Abdul Wahid reaches his breaking point.
Major Pettigrew will have you rooting for the English countryside, hissing at the nasty American business of carving it up and longing to give his financier son Roger a box on the ears for his impertinence and self-absorption. By the end, it is possible that even Roger has grown up a little, and certainly Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali have learned what is really important.
Well-researched and authentic (Simonson spent her teenage years in West Sussex), each note in this novel rings true and takes the reader on a lovely vacation to the pastoral English countryside. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand succeeds in showing the depth behind the veneer; it explores the rift not only between generations, but between cultures, and delves deeply into the notion of progress and home. You’ll laugh, you’ll wipe away a tear or two and you certainly will enjoy time spent with Major Pettigrew.
Linda White is a writer and editor in St. Paul, Minnesota.