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Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

One of the greatest pleasures for me as a reader is reading first novels. I believe that sometimes an author has, in fact, only one really good novel to write and that it is often the first. There is that one story that has been percolating and comes to the page after many years of thinking, writing and re-writing. That is of course a generalization but I think there is some truth in it, and I always look forward to reading the first novel of a yet unknown author with the pleasure of discovery.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is a first novel by a woman born and raised in England, now living in the United States. Our hero, Major Pettigrew, is 68 years old, a widower for several years, still missing his wife. On the day we first meet him he has just had news of the death of his brother, Bertie.

Our heroine, Mrs. Ali, is the local shopkeeper, one of very few Pakistani residents in the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary. The paper boy is ill and Mrs Ali has come to collect the paper money, just as Major Pettigrew finds himself about to pass out in his doorway. Mrs. Ali takes him inside, makes a cup of tea and their friendship begins. Mrs. Ali is a 58 year old widow, and some may see her as only the local convenience shop owner, but she is educated and literate. Mrs. Ali and the Major find themselves enjoying conversation and books, and for the Major there is a very definite attraction to the lovely Mrs. Ali.

We then meet Roger, the Major’s high-powered son who works in London’s financial district. Roger, with his wealthy American girlfriend, is looking for a country cottage near dear old dad – but we suspect, as does the Major, that Roger is really looking for Dad to provide a step into the old country moneyed set to further his own career. We also meet the young Amina, and her son George – and Mrs. Ali’s nephew Abdul Wahid, a reluctant father, struggling with his faith and his role in life.

Throw into this mix a pair of guns. Antique Churchill’s, double barrel hunting guns – now quite valuable. When the Major’s father died he left one gun to the Major and one gun to Bertie, with the proviso that the guns be reunited when one brother or the other died. The Major, as upset as he truly is by the death of his brother, is more than delighted to inherit the gun – it has been his life’s desire. But – there are others who want these guns – Bertie’s widow would like to sell them! Even Roger thinks that selling the guns to a wealthy American would advance his own career. The poor Major is beside himself with worry about his guns.

As the relationship between the Major and Mrs. Ali takes its natural progression they quietly realize how important they have become to each other. Their friends and family, however, are not so accepting.

Will the Major and Mrs. Ali find happiness together? Well, you will only find out if you give yourself the pleasure of reading this delightful, lovely story of two unlikely lovers.

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