Book review: The Promise by Lesley Pearse

Beautiful Belle – who can forget Lesley Pearse’s feisty young courtesan snatched from the streets of London and sold into prostitution?

By Pam Norfolk
Friday, 24th February 2012, 6:00 am

Belle was the charismatic star of the best-selling book of the same name which captured the hearts and imaginations of Pearse’s army of avid fans last year.

And now Belle is back in this gripping follow-up which sees her heading off to the battlefields of First World War France and a haunting collision with her colourful past.

Pearse is one of the UK’s most popular authors of women’s fiction and it’s easy to see why. The Promise is her 20th novel and confirms her reputation for impeccably researched and beautifully written stories full of romance, humanity and high drama.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Whether she is portraying everyday life or extraordinary events, she has the power to get under the skin of her characters and pull tightly on our heartstrings.

In London, 1914, Belle Reilly has escaped the horrors of her virtual imprisonment in New Orleans and finally found the life she dreamed of. It’s all thanks to her devoted husband Jimmy who has given her love, stability and the hat shop she had wanted to own since she was a child.

Life is good at the home they share over the Railway pub with Belle’s aunt and surrogate mother Mog but sometimes events that took place in America and France affect her relationship with Jimmy. For Belle, it’s ‘like having a splinter in your finger which you can’t get out, yet you can’t help but prod it.’

As the storm clouds of war begin to gather, Belle’s already turbulent life is set to change in ways she never imagined possible.

When Jimmy enlists in the army and leaves for Ypres, her world is shattered and she realises she can no longer stand by and watch. Belle volunteers to help the wounded but her work as a Red Cross ambulance driver in France throws her into the path of Etienne, the enigmatic man who played a significant role in her childhood.

Soon she finds herself torn agonisingly between forbidden passion and loyalty to a good man. And as the past returns to haunt her present in other, more unpleasant ways, Belle’s character is put to the test like never before...

Belle is a gutsy and gregarious heroine, a born survivor who looks life in the face and never shrinks from the sorrows and disappointments it throws up. Her rollercoaster story is played out here with Pearse’s usual empathy, pace and pathos.

So who said romance was dead? Certainly not when it’s in the capable hands of Lesley Pearse!

(Michael Joseph, hardback, £18.99)