Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Kindred – Steve Robinson

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

Genealogical mysteries are a rarity and so the chances are that you haven’t tried one, if not then Steve Robinson is the author to go to. This is the fifth in a series of books where the protagonist Jefferson Tayte (or JT) uses historical records to uncover secrets from the past. Often these forays into long forgotten events get him into trouble. But JT has his own genealogical mystery, he was adopted as a child and has no clue who his own ancestors are.

In Kindred JT finally has a clue, and a friend, Professor Jean Summer, to accompany him on his trip which is to Munich. Clutching a photo of the woman he believes may be his mother he is off to find out more about the building the woman in the photo is pictured against. It doesn’t take long for him to discover that this building belongs to Johann Langer an old and very ill man. Granted an interview with the man in hospital Langer tells the pair the beginning of the story of his friendship with Volker Strobel during their boyhood in Hitler’s Youth.

I’m not going to relay the whole story, you really should read this for yourself, but it’s told through Langer’s eyes over a number of years taking the two boys to adulthood, and it is just so very realistic, it is almost painful. This story of two boy’s war is set against JT’s struggle to find out the ending to the tale, not an easy task as it becomes very clear that someone doesn’t want them to know the truth – nor are they subtle in the way they give their warnings. With JT getting himself into dangerous situations having read the previous episodes I knew only too well how important finding out the truth is but, JT, you really do need to be a little more careful whose cage you rattle!

I don’t know if I have the right words to convey just how exceptional this book is; the storytelling was perfect, maintaining the tension with legitimate delays while documents were sought and meetings arranged but not to the point where it felt like a device. The friendship between JT and the Professor was well-drawn, with convincing scenes between the pair, dinners eaten, although perhaps less food than our protagonist would wish, and realistic exchanges of opinion – I like this pair working together. Obviously because of the time it was set and their background at times this story meets a historical reality that is hard to face, this isn’t a book that shies away from the reality of the war, including the concentration camps. At these times the absolute authenticity of this book felt very raw because I never doubted the truism that it portrayed.

This is by far the best of the entire series although I got into that awful quandary, especially towards the end, where I wanted to find out what happened but desperately didn’t want the book to come to an end. Thank you Steve Robinson for an absolutely wonderful story, set in both time and place to perfection.

I now need to say a huge thank you to the publishers Thomas and Mercer who allowed me to read a proof copy of Kindred ahead of the publication date of 12 April 2016, this review is my thank you to them.

If you haven’t read any of this series but you like historical fiction with a difference here are the books in order – I strongly suggest you start at the beginning although each one, including this latest one can easily be read as a stand-alone.

In The Blood
Two hundred years ago a loyalist family fled to England to escape the American War of Independence and seemingly vanished into thin air. American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to find out what happened, but it soon becomes apparent that a calculated killer is out to stop him.
In the Blood combines a centuries-old mystery with a present-day thriller that brings two people from opposite sides of the Atlantic together to uncover a series of carefully hidden crimes. Tayte’s research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and will stop at nothing to find them.

To The Grave
A curiously dated child’s suitcase arrives, unannounced and unexplained, in a modern-day Washington suburb. A week later, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is sitting in an English hotel room, staring at the wrong end of a loaded gun.
In his latest journey into the past, Tayte lands in wartime Leicestershire, England. The genealogist had hoped simply to reunite his client with the birth mother she had never met, having no idea she had been adopted. Instead, he uncovers the tale of a young girl and an American serviceman from the US 82nd Airborne, and a stolen wartime love affair that went tragically wrong.

The Last Queen of England
While on a visit to London, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte’s old friend and colleague dies in his arms. Before long, Tayte and a truth-seeking historian, Professor Jean Summer, find themselves following a corpse-ridden trail that takes them to the Royal Society of London, circa 1708.
What to make of the story of five men of science, colleagues of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, who were mysteriously hanged for high treason?
As they edge closer to the truth, Tayte and the professor find that death is once again in season. A new killer, bent on restoring what he sees as the true, royal bloodline, is on the loose…as is a Machiavellian heir-hunter who senses that the latest round of murder, kidnapping, and scandal represents an unmissable business opportunity.

The Lost Empress

On a foggy night in 1914, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland sank en route between Canada and England. The disaster saw a loss of life comparable to the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet her tragedy has been forgotten.
When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is shown a locket belonging to one of the Empress’s victims, a British admiral’s daughter named Alice Stilwell, he must travel to England to understand the course of events that led to her death.
Tayte is expert in tracking killers across centuries. In The Lost Empress, his unique talents draw him to one of the greatest tragedies in maritime history as he unravels the truth behind Alice’s death amidst a backdrop of pre-WWI espionage.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Other Me – Saskia Sarginson

Contemporary Fiction 5*s
Contemporary Fiction
5*s

This wasn’t the book I expected but oh my, it was so much better! I expected a tale, similar to other ones I’ve read this year where the protagonist has changed her identity because she is either hiding from someone or something, and to an extent that is exactly what this story is about, but it tells a tale much deeper than that, truly exploring how we identify ourselves and illustrates how events in the past have very real consequences in the present.

Klaudia is the only daughter of Otto and Gwyn Meyer and we first meet her in the 1980s as she starts secondary school where her father is the caretaker. Having been home-schooled by her religious mother surrounded by the religious figures her father carves out of wood, Klaudia struggles to socialise, something not helped by the fact her father is a figure of fun and called a Nazi by her classmates. Saskia Sarginson paints a realistic picture of a teenage angst without it ever feeling melodramatic and so when Klaudia finds some evidence that seems to suggest that the name calling isn’t just childish taunts, but may have roots in reality, her reaction was entirely believable.

Klaudia leaves home in the 1990s, she moves to Leeds and becomes Eliza Bennett, named on the spur of the moment in honour of Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett. She leaves behind the taunts that had followed her through her teenage years and reinvents herself, but she can’t quite forget the suspicions she has about her father’s past and is in no hurry to return to the claustrophobic home in London.

Interspersed with Klaudia’s and Eliza’s stories we have the story of Ernst, Otto’s brother. Ernst’s tale begins in the 1930s in Germany. Ernst and Otto were foundlings, taken in by the Meyer family living a bleak life, one where they aren’t treated as family but more as servants despite being young boys. We follow Ernst as life in Germany is changing with fascism on the rise and proving your ancestral line is a requirement of staying safe.

Earlier this month I made a comment that a book spoke to me, this one did too and I understood why when I got to the afterword. The author tells us she was informed that the father that she’d never met was a Dutch Jew and how that made the Holocaust all that more personal. My paternal family were also Jews who came to England from Amsterdam and like the author, I’ve always been aware that but for the decision of my ancestors to move to the East End, I may not be here at all. I’ve been to Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam and read through the names of those who died in the concentration camps and seen my family name, which only became anglicised in the late 1930s, listed numerous times as were the other surnames that crop up in my family tree. The author wrote this book after considering how she would feel about this period of history if her father had been a German Nazi rather than a Dutch Jew. Coincidently the same thoughts were running through my head as I read this book, and that is the randomness of reading, you just don’t know when that special book that feels personal will appear.

This book really moved me and although I had some sympathy with Klaudia/Eliza, the character I really grew to love was Ernst. If you want to find out why, well you’ll have to read the book!

This is the first book I’ve read by this author but having rooted around in the cupboard which houses a pile of unread books, I found a copy of her debut novel The Twins which was one of the Richard and Judy choices back in 2013 and this will be now promoted to a place on an actual shelf.

I’d like to say an enormous thank you to Little Brown Book Group who allowed me to read a copy of this book in return for my review. The Other Me is already available to read as an e-book with the physical copy being published on 13 August 2015.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die – Marnie Riches

Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction
4*’s

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die is a fast-moving thriller and grittier than my usual choice of read but if you want excitement by the bucketful this is a book to consider, especially as it is currently available for the kindle at the absolute bargain price of just 99p!

Georgina McKenzie, is an Erasmus student at the University of Amsterdam when a human bomb blows up the library, it has all the hallmarks of a terrorist plot and when George and her friend Ad stumble on the scene she is asked to help the policeman draw the person responsible out by writing a blog post for the student magazine. Detective van den Bergen got more than he bargained for when he asked the student criminologist for help because George wasn’t about to leave it at one post, especially when her fellow students start dying at a rate of knots. No George gets stuck into investigating the crime, working from her already well-honed reading of people she feels she is well-placed to find the person or people responsible. She is also slightly worried that she is being watched, but by whom and why she doesn’t know but she’s determined to find out. To do so she takes part, and encourages Ad in turn to do the same, in some breathtakingly risky escapades to root out the killer.

As well as being quite gruesome in places, there are a lot of characters to keep track of as well as a number of different themes and places; The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die takes in Amsterdam, England and Germany as it hurtles from one scary event to the next. At first I was confused about the part of the story set in London which full of drugs and gangs but I really liked the atmosphere created by the author with young Ella terrified of the local boys Danny and Jez who terrorised her and her mother on a nightly basis while all Ella wanted was a quiet life and to escape.

There are some well-drawn characters to back up a plot that does need the reader to be in the moment and not to ask too many awkward questions about protocol etc. Inspector van den Bergen being one of my favourites. George was a little to full-on at the start but as I got to understand more about her my feelings towards her softened. I liked the interplay between her and her friend Ad and her friendship with her prostitute neighbour and the local coffee-shop owner and landlord. If this book wasn’t so full of action I fear I would have lost track of the numerous characters who populate this novel although the author has done well in giving the majority of them interesting traits so they are easily distinguishable.

I recommend this book to those who enjoy Scandi-crime fiction, and yes I know my geography is poor but I am aware that neither Amsterdam or London are in Scandinavia, but this book has the same feel to it with the big plots, the gruesome retaliations and the complex individuals.

I’d like to thank the author Marnie Riches and the publisher Harper Collins Maze for giving me a copy of this book for review purposes. The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die was published on 23 April 2015.

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Dark Meadow – Andrea Maria Schenkel

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

This slim novel packs a mighty punch which is going to linger in this reader’s mind with some powerful issues covered under the guise of a murder mystery.

The story is told eighteen years after the death of Afra and her young son in a small German village when a stranger turns up in a tavern, drunk he has an old cutting from a newspaper about the crime provoking memories of what happened on that day when the storm clouds rolled in on the washing hanging in the cottager’s yard.

Afra had returned to her catholic parent’s home in post-war Germany years after she left as a 14 year old girl, she had no choice, her employer’s had thrown her out for having relations with a Frenchman and so with she returns to a house which slowly fills with anger. When her pregnancy becomes apparent her father, Johann, is resentful of the shame she has bought on him and his wife Theres and suspects both his daughter and his wife of hiding things from him as his dementia takes hold. When the police are called, Johann confesses and the case is closed.

So what is the book about? Where is the mystery? The story is told by recreating the day of the murder from different viewpoints, including Afra’s to build layer upon layer until the whole picture is clear. These multiple narratives range from Police Officers who visited the scene of crime remembering the events of years before, to Afra’s unwanted suitor, to the itinerant salesmen who passed through the village and the shame that Afra’s parents felt about their illegitimate grandson Albert and the ever pressing need for money to cover the cost of two extra mouths to feed. As the day is reconstructed piece by piece despite the evidence being provided as fact with no excitable emotions or race to find the killer that our crime fiction is usually full of, this incredibly powerful novel that made this reader think about the crime committed in terms of the lives it affected and sheer pointlessness far more than those action-packed thrillers ever do.

This is a nuanced and dark tale, based upon a real story in Andrea Maria Schenkel’s native Germany. If the names hadn’t been foreign I would have forgotten that this wasn’t originally written in English so seamless was Andrea Bell’s translation. It is unsurprising given the depth of this novel that Shenkel has won critical acclaim of a literary nature in Germany for this book. I’m pleased to hear that this is her fourth novel and I will be seeking out her earlier work to see if that packs as mighty a punch as this one does.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Quercus for allowing me to have a copy of this book to read in return for this honest review and to Liz Loves Books whose interview with the author led me to seek this fantastic read out.