I do love a good dual time-line story and this one has two geographical references to enhance the experience even further.
In Last Letter Home historian Briony Andrews visits Italy with her friends and finds a link to her past in an old derelict house. Not totally unsurprising as she knew that her Grandfather had fought there during the war, but even so what could be more magical than to see him on an old reel of film. Even better she is handed a letter written by one Sarah Bailey to an as yet unknown man.
In 1939 Sarah Bailey settled in Norfolk after spending some time in India. She lives with her mother and sister mourning the loss of their father. While there she meets a distant relative of their neighbours at Westbury Hall, a young man Paul Franklin who is half-German. Not a great nation to have hailed from at this time!
The past story is a particularly interesting twist on the usual WWII storyline due to the inclusion of Paul Franklin. I think few of us consider what it must have been like to be a settler in the UK at this time as a German. How would your neighbours react? Where would their loyalties lie if they were to fight? And a myriad of other questions are subtlety posed through the characters Rachel Hore has so richly drawn.
Of course being Rachel Hore this isn’t simply a character study, her books, and I’ve been a fan for years, all are backed up with meticulous research. In this book we learn about the campaign in Naples in 1943 and we are not spared some of the crueller realities of what war is really like some of which we view in letters home from the front-line, others are told through the research our fictional historian carries out in her quest to find out what became of Paul and Sarah after the war was over.
Briony’s story is also fascinating as she lives a modern life as a single woman with a close friend Aruna. As the story opens it is social media that is in the spotlight as Briony is invited to do a piece on TV for which she gets mauled. The contrast between 2016 and the past could not be more clear despite Paul being distrusted by some of his peers back then. The holiday to Naples is born from Briony’s mishap and Aruna’s new boyfriend Luke is more than welcoming even if the other couple are of the kind that you’d rather not be stuck on holiday with!
Rachel Hore has excelled with both her characterisation and the descriptions of her settings, I was easily transported to Italy in both the past and present. However it is well-rounded characters and interesting storylines that make these kind of historical novels and although I was inevitably drawn towards the mystery of the past, Briony’s life in the present was far from boring giving a story that had me longing to know what would happen in both the past and the present.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Simon & Schuster UK who allowed me to read an advance copy of this book ahead of publication on 22 March 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.