Because her third novel brims with priests and peasants and aristocrats who risked their lives to shelter Jews in Italy during the last, ugly months of World War II, Mary Russell knew that some might peg it as sentimental. So in an appendix, she supplies the historical evidence that while the world's attention was fixed on the Russian front and the beaches of Normandy, extra-ordinary feats of armed resistance and humanitarian rescue were accomplished in the mountains near the French border. With little outside help, an ad hoc network of ordinary Italians sheltered not only the Jewish families who had been their neighbors for generations but also the stream of northern European Jews who fled across the Alps. Russell reimagines this drama with a complex cast of characters including an urbane Jewish-Italian aviator, crippled by guilt over a misdirected bomb in the Abyssinia campaign; sly nuns who defy both the Nazis and an indifferent Vatican to hide Jewish orphans; and a remorseful German doctor nursed back to health by a rabbi's wife. They can all seem like romantic cutouts until it becomes clear that Russell will not be supplying the happy endings that would inevitably reward such heroism in a more clichéd book. A Thread of Grace is a rich, old-fashioned read.