Dead Heat to Destiny

By J B Rivard

Dead Heat to Destiny, a novel by J B Rivard
Book details

I am a student of History and still find the tales that it can tell us fascinating. On the surface the stories are of Kings or Queens, of epic battles between nations, of horror on an industrial scale, but below the surface is the history of the likes of you and me. I am not a hero or villain, just a person getting by. On the run up to World War One most people had little idea what was about to happen, they simply lived their lives. It is these simple stories that are often the most telling. J B Rivard captures the spirit of the everyman history in Dead Heat to Destiny, a tale about three young adults whose lives would converge. 

Three young people at the start of the 20th century, each with their own ambitions, all coloured by the lead up to and outbreak of a worldwide war. Gregor Steiner, a young German, loves the arts and wants to be a pianist, but his parents point him towards the military. His cousin, Adrienne Boch is from Belgium and wishes to pursue a career in fashion. Will Marra is American but grew up in France and has a fascination with the new airplane technologies. Who would have known that their passions would all lead to the Panama Canal in 1917? 

If you are looking for a war novel full of action, then Dead is not the book for you. It is a fictionalised form of social history and has that feel. You see the conflict from the perceptions of three characters that have no say in how nations manoeuvre. We first meet all three characters when they are young and witness them grow up in the years leading to WW1. This gives us a real sense of their personalities and adds to the tension as the final act of the book starts.  

The final third of the book has a different pace to it. Previously, days, weeks and even months are skipped to move the narrative along. Europe gives way to South America and an event that would change the lives of all three. Interspersed with watching the youths develop, Rivard had bounced back to Panama and the long-standing tensions between the Americans and Germans over control of the sea. This cold war element changes to hot by 1917 in dramatic fashion. 

Despite the subject matter of war Dead felt like a gentle novel to me. Rivard has an interest in developing the characters and spends time with them. The pace is slow at points and the style of sentence can get a little getting used to, as if the Europeans are being translated into English. I found myself used to the style after a few chapters and lulled into the pacing of the story. Rivard does an impressive job of showing what war was like for ordinary people, pushed here and there by forces beyond their control. 

The final act of the novel has a pivotal role in America’s war effort but is not an epic set piece on the scale of a great battle. Instead, Rivard uses the character development of the three main protagonists to heighten the tension. For these three separate lives, it is an epic event. I very much enjoyed this glimpse into the life of a German, French and American. Rivard captures that fascination that all history lovers have of what it must have felt like to be there – the hopes, fears, loves, and loses. 

Written on 9th February 2023 by .

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