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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview The Undercover Nazi Hunter: Exposing Subterfuge and Unmasking Evil in Post-War Germany by Wolfe Frank. Ed by Paul Hooley (@penswordbooks) Anybody interested in post-WWII Germany and in Wolfe Frank should read this book.

Hi all.

I bring you a book today that I promised you I’d talk about a while back.

The Undercover Nazi Hunter by Wolfe Frank
The Undercover Nazi Hunter by Wolfe Frank

 

The Undercover Nazi Hunter: Exposing Subterfuge and Unmasking Evil in Post-War Germany by Wolfe Frank. Ed by Paul Hooley

Wolfe Frank was Chief Interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials where he was dubbed ‘The Voice of Doom.’ A playboy turned resistance worker he had fled Germany for England in 1937 having been branded an ‘enemy of the state – to be shot on sight.’ Initially interned as an ‘enemy alien,’ he was later released and allowed to join the British Army – where he rose to the rank of Captain. Unable to speak English when he arrived by the time of the trials he was considered to be the finest interpreter in the world.

In the months following his service at Nuremberg, Frank became increasingly alarmed at the misinformation coming out of Germany so in 1949, backed by the New York Herald Tribune, he risked his life again by returning to the country of his birth to make an ‘undercover’ survey of the main facets of postwar German life and viewpoints. During his enterprise he worked as a German alongside Germans in factories, on the docks, in a refugee camp and elsewhere. Equipped with false papers he sought objective answers to many questions including: refugees, anti-Semitism, morality, de-Nazification, religion, and nationalism.

The NYHT said at the time: ‘A fresh appraisal of the German question could only be obtained by a German and Mr Frank had all the exceptional qualifications necessary. We believe the result of his “undercover” work told in human, factual terms, is an important contribution to one of the great key problems of the postwar world … and incidentally it contains some unexpected revelations and dramatic surprises.’ The greatest of those surprises was Frank single-handedly tracking down and arresting the SS General ranked ‘fourth’ on the allies ‘most wanted’ list – and personally taking and transcribing the Nazi’s confession.

The Undercover Nazi Hunter not only reproduces Frank’s series of articles (as he wrote them) and a translation of the confession, which, until now, has never been seen in the public domain, it also reveals the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of a great American newspaper agonizing over how best to deal with this unique opportunity and these important exposés.

https://www.amazon.com/Undercover-Nazi-Hunter-Unmasking-Post-War/dp/1526738732/

https://www.amazon.com/Undercover-Nazi-Hunter-Subterfuge-Unmasking-ebook/dp/B07R56RS7G/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Undercover-Nazi-Hunter-Subterfuge-Unmasking-ebook/dp/B07R56RS7G/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Undercover-Nazi-Hunter-Hardback/p/15678

About the authors:

About Wolfe Frank

Born on St Valentine’s Day in 1913 and a strikingly handsome man WOLFE FRANK was irresistible to women. Married five times he had a multitude of affairs many of which he graphically describes in his candid posthumous autobiography Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom (published by Frontline Books). In a packed lifetime, other than being a gifted linguist, he was also at various times, a businessman, racing driver, skier, theatre impresario, actor, television and radio presenter, journalist, salesman, financier, restaurateur, and property developer.

About Paul Hooley

PAUL HOOLEY was born and educated in Surrey. He founded a printing company that grew to be ranked amongst the industry’s top 1%. He has been a director of a building society, a private hospital and companies involved in advertising, publishing, entertainment, finance, building, transport, property and engineering. He retired from business in 1990 since when he has devoted much of his time to studying, writing and lecturing on a wide range of historical and military subjects. A former town and district councillor, he was Mayor of Bedford in 1978. Amongst other involvements he has been a magistrate, a tax commissioner and a prison visitor. He has been married to Helen for over 50 years, has three children and now lives in Dorset. He was appointed a MBE in 2003.

You can check this article about Wolfe Frank for more information and to see some pictures:

https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/1052540/wolfe-frank-nazis-nuremberg-trials-hitler-lieutenants

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have read and reviewed the fascinating Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom: The Autobiography of the Chief Interpreter at History’s Greatest Trials by Wolfe Frank ( you can check my review here) and when I heard there was a second book about Frank, centred on a series of articles about post-war Germany he wrote for the New York Herald Tribune, I had to read it as well. This book is also fascinating, but I missed more of Frank’s own voice, which made the previous book so distinctive and impossible to put down. On the other hand, I appreciated the work of the editor, who does a great job of providing background and trying to tie up loose ends.

The book includes several distinct parts. First, the preparation and background to the project. Although everybody seemed interested, getting everything in place in such a complex operation, as Frank was going undercover and there were many logistical complications to sort out — we must remember Germany was divided up into four zones under the control of different countries following the war. This part includes letters and documents of the time, and beyond its interest for Frank’s biography, it also provides a good insight into how newspapers and news organizations and syndication worked at the time. The editor also provides a good background into Frank’s personal history and his biography, which will be familiar to people who have read the previous book but means those who have not will easily get a sense of who Frank was and how he came about the project.

The second part is the articles as they were published at the time, The Hangover after Hitler series. Having read the previous book, it is clear that the articles were heavily edited, and Frank was writing under clear instructions. One cannot help but wonder what he would have written otherwise, but they are interesting as documents, not only of what was happening in Germany at the time, but also of what other countries wanted to know about Germany (mostly the USA), and how the different zones of post-WWII Germany were like. It sounds as if the different countries had completely different approaches to rebuilding and reorganising post-war Germany, and although we are all aware of what happened in the case of the Russian part, I had little idea of this in regard to the other regions before I read this book.

The third part is the confession of SS-Gruppenführer Waldermar Wappenhans, the SS General Frank discovered was still living in Germany after the war, in the British section of Germany, working for the British and living under a false identity. This is one of the most interesting sections of the book, and although the editor gives his own thoughts about it in the fourth part (and it makes perfect sense to think that Frank had a lot of influence in the way the “confession” was written), this man, who fought in both, WWI and WWII, and who in the confession comes across as somebody who never questioned his duty or what he had to do, and whose main interest was to go back to active duty (despite being repeatedly wounded) because that is what true men were supposed to do, provides an account of campaigns, weaponry, and also of agreements and disagreements between the different factions and actors that will delight anybody interested in the history of the period. He does not go into a lot of detail about his personal relationships or even his own reactions (although there are some light biographical moments, some that would horrify us [he casually recounts buying a young girl, with some other officers, in Haifa], some he seems to quickly skip by) and he depicts himself as somebody who speaks his mind no matter what, often resulting in his being moved and transferred to more risky posts. (I agree with the editor, who in part four writes that Wappenhans’s testimony “is more the autobiography of a brave warrior who unquestioningly obeyed the orders of superiors than the ‘confession’ of a Nazi wanted in connection with war crimes” (p. 282).

Part four, the aftermath, was the part I enjoyed the most. Here, the editor explains what happened and how the identity of Wappenhans came to be revealed (it seems Der Spiegel got hold of the information and revealed it on the same day Frank’s article came out, and there are clues as to where they might have got the information from), and also talks about some of the people involved and mentioned in the text and what happened to them. He also asks if Frank was working for British Intelligence, and makes a good case for it (it sure would explain a few things), and there is a final conundrum as well, as there were some drawings that might or might not have been by James Thurber that turned up in the file with the articles and documents. Personally, I like the drawings.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in post-WWII Germany, in finding more about Wolfe Frank (yes, we need a movie about him), interested in Wappenhans himself, and also in the workings of international newspapers in the late 1940s. I missed more of Frank’s own words, and if anybody reads this book first, I recommend you check Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom. It is a must read.

Thanks to Rosie Croft and Pen & Sword, thanks to the editor, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

 

 

 

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#Book review BARNSLEY AT WAR 1939–45 (YOUR TOWNS & CITIES IN WORLD WAR TWO) by Mark Green (@penswordbooks). #WWII

Hi all:

I bring you another non-fiction book from one of Pen & Sword collections that I think will interest many:

Barnsley at War 1939–45 (Your Towns & Cities in World War Two) by Mark Green.
Barnsley at War 1939–45 (Your Towns & Cities in World War Two) by Mark Green.

 

Barnsley at War 1939–45 (Your Towns & Cities in World War Two) by Mark Green. A wonderful chronicle for anybody interested in local history

The ‘eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ of 1918 was supposed to be the conclusion of the ‘war to end all wars’.

Just twenty-one years after the armistice was signed, Barnsley, its borough and the world braced itself for a global conflict that history would eventually testify to be deadlier than the war that destroyed a generation of Barnsley men and boys.

After the Great War, the famous market town stumbled into a new era that promised social change, including universal suffrage, economic and political stability and establishments of new international organizations such as the League of Nations to steer the masses. In reality, the town suffered in poverty, endured pit disasters, countless industrial deaths all the while still lamenting its lost generation, mercilessly butchered on The Somme.

The book’s narrative explains in detail Barnsley’s transition from its interwar years, to the euphoria of victory in 1945, supported by a timeline of national events that helped shape the town. It steers away from the common two-dimensional viewpoints some people had on the Home Front and the endless reusing of the same themes – ‘the Great British spirit’, Churchillian greatness, D-Day, Dunkirk and VE day. Although one cannot dismiss those remarkable qualities the town developed during the war, it also explores controversial topics such as social impacts, the rise in juvenile delinquency, misplaced optimism, increase in crime and the acceptance of the status quo by some members of the ruling council.

Indeed, Barnsley rose to the challenge as it did years earlier, women once again revealed their rightful place in society as equals, miners smashed productivity records, men and women took up arms in anticipation of invasion.

The Second World War had arguably the same impacts on Barnsley as the Great War, further local names etched on the memorials as a timeless reminder of the men, women and children who died or gave their life for their town, county and country. Never to be forgotten.

https://www.amazon.com/Barnsley-1939-45-Towns-Cities-World-ebook/dp/B07RCHF2PL/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Barnsley-1939-45-Towns-Cities-World-ebook/dp/B07RCHF2PL/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Barnsley-at-War-193945-Paperback/p/15712

About the author:

Mark’s interest in writing was sparked once he started writing articles for his town’s local history magazine, Barnsley Memories. He became fascinated by the sacrifice the local fishermen of Boston made for their town, and was eagerly driven on by the enthusiasm of local Boston people willing to help with his research into this remarkable place and into what the community endured.

His personal interests are cycling, reading, history tours, researching local history and enjoying time with his two children.

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This volume is one in a series about different towns and cities during WWII in the UK, called Your Towns & Cities in World War Two (for those interested, Pen & Sword also publishes a similar series about towns and cities during WWI). I was particularly interested in Barnsley because I used to live in Penistone, a town within Barnsley Metropolitan Borough, and I spent a fair amount of time in Barnsley and the surrounding area, so I was curious as to how life must have been like at the time in the area (beyond the visual reminders, like monuments and parades). Each book is penned by a different expert, so the writing might differ, but if I were to judge by this one, anybody interested in researching in more detail what life was like during the war in a particular area of the UK would find plenty of useful material in this collection.

The book, which contains a detailed index and end notes that can serve as a bibliography, is peppered with photographs, maps, propaganda posters and advertisements, and images taken directly from newspapers which illustrate the text, from maps of the German bombers targets in the area (in Sheffield, a few miles South, they manufactured parts for the RAF planes, and it was therefore a target and suffered heavy bombing in 1940), posted silhouettes of the German planes and images of their uniforms, so the population could recognise them, pictures of the men and women who helped in the war effort (both home and abroad), the bomb shelters, a gas hood for babies (it looks right out of a sci-fi movie)…

The four chapters follow the war effort in Barnsley in chronological order, from the preparation period (detailing the ARP’s [ Air Raid Precaution] efforts to recruit people in the whole area, also talking in detail about the poor living and working conditions in some parts of the town, especially for those working at the local collieries [George Orwell visited and reported on what he saw], it also mentions those men from Barnsley who went to join the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War [Thank you], the building of air shelters and the reuse of some facilities for training and as shelters; to what became known as “the Phoney War”, because for eight months, after war had been declared, nothing much seemed to happen, although there were plenty of preparations and movements taking place (for some soldiers who had never travelled abroad it felt like a vacation, while at home they were practicing imposing blackout —there were several deaths and a large number of accidents as well until people got wise to the risks—, rationing, and an increase in manufacturing);  then when Germany invaded the Low Countries and France, we have more rationing, the first men start dying abroad including the first British soldier killed in France, Private William Roper, who although living in Dewsbury at the time of the war, was born and spent his childhood in Barnsley, the women joining more actively in the war effort, heavy rationing, children refugees arriving from some of the heavily bombed areas (there are letters and personal accounts included as well)… And finally, after the victory, we have the celebrations, of course.  The book does not shy away from talking about some of the less than edifying incidents, like crime and robberies taking place during the period, and hate incidents towards some of the allied troops visiting the area (including an incident in Penistone when an African-American soldier was assaulted outside a pub, although seemingly not by locals), and it is a fairly complete chronicle of all aspects of life in the area during WWII period.

As a small but representative sample of the book, I thought I’d share a fragment of a letter by Gunner William Barraclough, a Barnsley hero, summing up the British spirit of Dunkirk, which brought a smile to my face: ‘we had a hot time, but we’re not licked yet —not by a long chalk.’

I cannot sum up the whole book, but I am sure anybody from the region, or interested in researching the local history of that area, will find plenty of useful information about what was happening in the area, and also about what happened to the locals who were mobilised during the war. This would be a perfect present for relatives or friends who remember the era or are interested in it, and also for anybody wanting to become better acquainted with that period of UK history at a local level.

Thanks to Pen & Sword (Rosie Croft in particular) for the book, thanks to all you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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#Bookreview VOICES OF THE CODEBREAKERS: PERSONAL ACCOUNTS OF THE SECRET HEROES OF WORLD WAR II by Michael Paterson (@penswordbooks). Personal stories that must be heard

Hi all:

I bring you another one of Pen & Sword books that I think will interest many of you.

Cover of Voices of the Codebreakers.
Voices of the Codebreakers. Personal accounts of the secret heroes of WWII by Michael Paterson

Voices of the Codebreakers: Personal accounts of the secret heroes of World War II by Michael Paterson

Alongside the open conflict of World War II there were other, hidden wars – the wars of communication, in which success depended on a flow of concealed and closely-guarded information. Smuggled written messages, secretly transmitted wireless signals, or months of eavesdropping on radio traffic meant operatives could discover in advance what the enemy intended to do. This information was passed on to those who commanded the armies, the fleets and the bomber formations, as well as to the other secret agents throughout the world who were desperately trying to infiltrate enemy lines. Vital information that turned the tide of battle in North African desert and on the Pacific Ocean proved to have been obtained by the time-consuming and unglamorous work of cryptanalysts who deciphered the enemy’s coded messages, and coded those for the Allies. From the stuffy huts of Bletchley Park to the battles in the Mediterranean, the French and Dutch Resistance movements and the unkempt radio operatives in Burma, the rarely-seen, outstanding stories collected here reveal the true extent of the ‘secret war’. The ongoing need for secrecy for decades after the war meant that the outstanding achievements of wartime cryptanalysts could not be properly recognised. With vivid first-hand accounts and illuminating historical research, VOICES OF THE CODEBREAKERS reveals and finally celebrates the extraordinary accomplishments of these ordinary men and women.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Voices-Codebreakers-Personal-accounts-secret/dp/1784383139/

https://www.amazon.com/Voices-Codebreakers-Personal-accounts-secret/dp/1784383139/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Voices-of-the-Codebreakers-Paperback/p/15244

About Michael Paterson

Michael Paterson is a military historian, author, researcher and illustrator. He began his career on the military magazine ‘Battlefields Review’ as a writer and illustrator, before working in the printed books department at the Imperial War Museum, London. He has worked closely with many international archives as a researcher and has lectured frequently on military history and related subjects. He is also the author of Winston Churchill: His Military Life, 1895-1945.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have forever been intrigued by personal accounts of events I’ve only ever heard of through history books or TV documentaries, as the narrative always seems to focus on the overall campaign or the big events, rather than on the everyday reality of the people who lived through it. These days there is a move towards making sure that all experiences are captured (mass observation archives are fundamental for that), and I think this is a positive step. History is not only what happens to the kings, queens, members of government and those in authority. It affects us all.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of mysteries, puzzles, and riddles, and the story behind Bletchley Park, the Enigma machines, and the efforts to decode the German messages (not only the German messages, but mostly) during WWII make for a fascinating real story, and one that was kept secret for many years. When I saw this book, I knew I had to check it.

Robert Harris provides the foreword for this book, whose content seems right out of one of his own novels. The book, divided into eight chapters (Codes and War, Bletchley Park, 1940: A Fateful Year, Battle of the Atlantic, North Africa and Italy, The Resistance, Towards Victory in Europe, War in the Pacific), contains also images, a chronology, a detailed bibliography and sources, including a list of documents from the Imperial War Museum, and an index, which will facilitates any research tasks for those readers looking for some specific information.

This volume is not a simple collection of letters or interviews with code breakers, but its content is organized around specific themes, and the narrative offers a fairly comprehensive historical background to each chapter. Readers are not required to be experts on WWII to follow the book, and most of them are likely to finish the book with a better working knowledge of the conflict and, in particular, of the role the code breakers played in it. I don’t think people who are particularly knowledgeable about the war will discover any new information in the storyline, but the letters and the personal accounts will provide them with insights into what it was really like to live through some of the situations and a better understanding of the role these men and women played in the war effort.

This tome taught me much I didn’t know, and I enjoyed the personal accounts in particular. Some of the highlights for me were: the fairly detailed explanations and examples of how the decoding worked and what roles different people played in the process, comments about how Bletchley was organised, how cold the huts were, how many hours they spent working there, the fact that they needed tall people to work with “the Bombe” because they had to reach the top of the huge machine, what the staff did in their limited spare time, Alan Turing’s quirks, the importance of capturing the coding tables from German U-boats… Of course, there were coders working aboard ships, in other countries, there were spies working abroad, and there are numerous accounts that bring to life different war scenarios, like the fear of being aboard a navy vessel in a convoy while waiting for the German submarines to strike, or being sent into a sinking German submarine trying to retrieve as much information as possible… Oh, and the Navajos using their own language to flummox any enemies trying to decode their messages.

I recommend this book to people interested in WWII, particularly in the role the communication specialists and the code breakers played in shortening the length of the war. Anybody researching the topic will find it full of useful material, and the bibliography and the list of documents will further assist their search. And, casual readers will likely feel, like me, amazed at how these people managed to crack the codes at a time when technology was so basic. We can see the first steps towards the development of modern computers, and I, for one, want to visit Bletchley Park and see, with my own eyes, where everything started.

Thanks to Rosie and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling!

 

 

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

NUREMBERG’S VOICE OF DOOM: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THE CHIEF INTERPRETER AT HISTORY’S GREATEST TRIALS by Wolfe Frank (@penswordbooks) A must read

Hi all:

I bring you a fabulous book about one of those people that seem too big for everyday life.

Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom: The Autobiography of the Chief Interpreter at History’s Greatest Trials by Wolfe Frank

Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom: The Autobiography of the Chief Interpreter at History’s Greatest Trials by Wolfe Frank

The memoirs of Wolfe Frank, which lay hidden in an attic for twenty-five years, are a unique and highly moving behind-the-scenes account of what happened at Nuremberg – ‘the greatest trial in history’ – seen through the eyes of a witness to the whole proceedings. They include important historical information never previously revealed. In an extraordinarily explicit life story, Frank includes his personal encounters, inside and outside the courtroom, with all the war criminals, particularly Hermann Goering. This, therefore, is a unique record that adds substantially to what is already publicly known about the trials and the defendants.

Involved in proceedings from day one, Frank translated the first piece of evidence, interpreted the judges’ opening statements, and concluded the trials by announcing the sentences to the defendants (and several hundred million radio listeners) – which earned him the soubriquet ‘Voice of Doom’.

Prior to the war, Frank, who was of Jewish descent, was a Bavarian playboy, an engineer, a resistance worker, a smuggler (of money and Jews out of Germany) and was declared to be ‘an enemy of the State to be shot on sight’. Having escaped to Britain, he was interned at the outbreak of war but successfully campaigned for his release and eventually allowed to enlist in the British Army – in which he rose to the rank of Captain. Unable to speak English prior to his arrival, by the time of the Nuremberg trials he was described as the ‘finest interpreter in the world’.

A unique character of extreme contrasts Frank was a playboy, a risk taker and an opportunist. Yet he was also a man of immense courage, charm, good manners, integrity and ability. He undertook the toughest assignment imaginable at Nuremberg to a level that was ‘satisfactory alike to the bench, the defence and the prosecution’ and he played a major role in materially shortening the ‘enormously difficult procedures’ by an estimated three years.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07J9RH8TQ/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Nurembergs-Voice-of-Doom-Hardback/p/15472

About the Author

Born on St Valentine’s Day 1913, WOLFE FRANK was a strikingly handsome man who proved to be irresistible to women. Post Nuremberg he single-handedly tracked down and apprehended one of the ‘most wanted’ Nazi criminals and in a packed lifetime he was, at various times, a financial advisor, racing driver, theatre impresario, broadcaster, journalist, salesman, businessman, restaurateur, skier, and property developer.

PAUL HOOLEY was born and educated in Surrey. He founded a design and printing company that grew to be ranked amongst the industry’s top 1%. He has also been a director of a building society, a private hospital and companies involved in advertising, publishing, finance, building, transport, property and engineering. He retired from business in 1990 since when he has devoted his life to studying, writing and lecturing on a wide range of historical and military subjects. A former town and district councillor, he was Mayor of Bedford in 1978. Amongst other involvements he has been a magistrate, a tax commissioner and a prison visitor. He has been married to Helen for over fifty years, has three children and now lives in Dorset. He was appointed a MBE in 2003.

You can check this article about Wolfe Frank for more information and to see some pictures:

https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/1052540/wolfe-frank-nazis-nuremberg-trials-hitler-lieutenants

My review:

My thanks to Rosie Croft and to Pen & Sword for sending me a hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review and I can’t recommend enough.

Often, when we read books on important historical subjects we feel we have learned something that others should also know about, something that should not be forgotten by the new generations, to avoid mistakes being repeated or to give credit to people who played an important role in ensuring a better future for all. This book combines both of these aspects, and much more.

Having read about the Nuremberg Trials, watched movies, and seen them mentioned often in other settings, I was curious when I saw this book. I’d never paid much heed to the role of the interpreters at the trials, but now that I’ve been doing translations for a while (and I know it’s a very different type of work), I’ve become much more aware of how important accuracy is, and in that case, with all the legal requirements and speed also playing a part, even more so. The fact that Wolfe Frank was the main and star interpreter (not that he ever says so himself, but it is an easy conclusion from the accolades and endorsements he received) at the trials would have made it an interesting book already, but his adventures and the man are fascinating in their own right.

The story of why the book had never come to light before (that links to his final years and his sad circumstances) sounds like the stuff of fiction: the memoirs of a very important and fascinating man locked up in an attic, with nobody fully aware of what was there, for twenty-five years. And then, what a life! If this was a work of fiction many readers would think that the author had gone too far stretching the suspension of disbelief. It feels as if Frank had lived several lives in one, and they all make for a very compelling read.

Paul Hooley does a great job of interfering little with the original materials, while providing sufficient information and background to ensure that the memoirs read smoothly, and we don’t need to keep searching for explanations of terminology or for details about people and places mentioned. His vast amount of research is evident but non-intrusive, and he also includes pictures to do with Frank’s life and with the trials. They all add to the reading experience, and I found particularly enlightening the drawings indicating how the courtroom worked, the places all the key players occupied, and the annotated pictures, originally from other books. Mostly, Hooley allows Frank’s words to speak for themselves, and he comes across as an intelligent, funny, witty, sharp, and matter-of-fact man, who was charming, could turn his hand at anything and do it well, knew how to get his own way often, for whom Justice (with capital letters) was truly important, but who had no great respect for rules, regulations or authority for their own sake, and could not abide fools or bullies gladly. He loved adventures and living in the fast-lane, but not when it came to putting other people’s lives at risk. He lived through some terrible events and put up with things that many of us can’t even imagine, but he maintained his dignity and is a perfect example of grace under pressure.

I cannot summarise the whole book and his life in a review, and in fact there is another book about his later adventures in Germany, which I have already secured a copy of, but if you love spy books, and are a fun of James Bond (I am not, by the way), you will want to read this book. He was not a spy, at least in the sense we have become familiar with through books and movies, but he did many of the things we would expect a spy to do, and many more. The part of the book about the trial is fascinating in its own right. The setting up of simultaneous translation, which had not been successfully used or established before, is a must for anybody interested in how international courts and organisations work at a practical level. Even though Frank makes light of many things, it is clear that he was serious about this, and he took the experience to heart (just imagine having to listen to hours and hours of descriptions of the crimes committed, while trying to do a job, and you will get an idea of how harrowing that must have been). He talks about Otto Ohlendorf, Chief of the Special Action Group in the East —this was part of the Subsequent Proceedings where he was the Chief Interpreter— and explains why he was one of the most chilling individuals he had to listen to, his pride when explaining his method of setting up the mobile gas chambers and perfecting them to make sure his staff were not affected mentally by the killings. He evidently thought he had done a great job and remained proud of it. Here is one of the few times when Frank explains how affected he was by it all:

There were days, such as that, when after my day in court I could not eat and I had to drown myself in alcohol before I could sleep; days when my reactions to anything or anyone German were not normal.

There were inevitable emotional reactions. What has remained is the realisation that a lifetime is too short for such horrors to be filed away in the annals of history as something destined to be forgotten. Forgiven, perhaps —forgotten— never. I flinch at the sickening sentimentality that demands the release of a Rudolf Hess, the application of the statutes of limitation. (Frank, 2018, p. 166)

I couldn’t agree more, and indeed it is a shame when one reads what happened to him at the end (when he couldn’t stay in his accommodation and due to his ill health he could not keep working) that he was not honoured and remembered as he deserved. At least one can hope that this book will make people become aware of him and his role, even if it is a case of ‘too little, too late’.

He was popular with women and his cavalier attitude can be problematic to read nowadays, but he recognised his own responsibility in the matter, and he does not appear dismissive or prejudiced when talking about women in a professional capacity. He could be a rogue (if we were to use a typical romantic novel definition of the word), but it seems fair to assume that he was a charming one. As Hooley very aptly summarises:

In short Wolfe Frank seems to have been a mixture of Casanova, with whom he had much in common, Cary Grant, the Scarlet Pimpernel, James Bond and Oliver Reed; and he had that rare ability to be a man’s man —a worldly-wise, educated gentleman who possesses class and admits his faults— as well as being a ladies’ man.  (Frank, 2018, p. 178)

This is an important book, a page-turner, a book that moves at fast pace, full of adventure, historical detail, and with a protagonist that even the most skilled fiction writers would struggle to improve on. Read it and recommend it. I’m sure you will.

And as a closing, I had to leave you with a lighter passage, and one that I, who lived in the UK for many years but could never fully understand the attraction cricket held for many, had to smile at. Here he had just arrived in the UK after one of his lucky escapes, was starving and hoping his friend would take him for a meal on arrival, but he was dragged instead to watch a cricket match. He’d never experienced one before.

At the match I found myself sitting next to a teacher who wanted to practice his German. For some time, I gazed at a group of men who, at first, seemed to be in doubt about what to do with themselves. They finally started to throw a ball about half-heartedly and now and then one of them seemed to arouse himself from his lethargy, to take an awkward swing at the ball with a large, clumsy lump of timber. Finally, I felt that I required an explanation. I turned to my neighbour and asked him when they would start to play? ‘Heavens’ he said with an expression of complete horror on his face, ‘what do you mean? They’ve been playing for over an hour… and this is a frightfully exciting match!’ (Frank, 2018, p. 42)

Frank, W. (2018). Nuremberg’s voice of doom. The autobiography of the chief interpreter at history’s greatest trials. Barnsley, UK: Frontline Books (Pen & Sword).

Thanks to Rosie and Pen & Sword for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling. Ah, I’ll be away from the blog and my computer for a bit, so don’t worry if you don’t see any posts for a bit. I’ll be reading and recharging my batteries! Have a great Easter!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT THE LOST LETTERS by Sarah Mitchell (@SarahM_writer) WWII Historical fiction and family secrets

Hi all:

I bring you a book that I think will become a big favourite for many of you, as it touches on some themes that I know a lot of us are interested in, and it is beautifully written. Another one of Rosie’s great finds.

Book review. The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell
The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell

The Lost Letters: Absolutely heartbreaking wartime fiction about love and family secrets by Sarah Mitchell  WWII Historical fiction set in the UK and a gripping family mystery

A gripping book club novel about forbidden love, friendship and family secrets in World War Two. Perfect for fans of The Letter by Kathryn Hughes, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

‘I adored this book, devouring it in a couple of days!… A beautiful and moving story that will stay with me for quite a while. Five shiny stars!!’ Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars

What if keeping your loved ones safe meant never seeing them again? 

Norfolk, 1940: Sylvia’s husband Howard has gone off to war, and she is struggling to raise her two children alone. Her only solace is her beach hut in Wells-Next-The-Sea, and her friendship with Connie, a woman she meets on the beach. The two women form a bond that will last a lifetime, and Sylvia tells Connie something that no-one else knows: about a secret lover… and a child.

Canada, present day: When Martha’s beloved father dies, he leaves her two things: a mysterious stash of letters to an English woman called ‘Catkins’ and directions to a beach hut in the English seaside town of Wells. Martha is at a painful crossroads in her own life and seizes this chance for a trip to England – to discover more about her family’s past, and the identity of her father’s secret correspondent.

The tragedy of war brought heartbreaking choices for Sylvia. And a promise made between her and Connie has echoed down the years. For Martha, if she uncovers the truth, it could change everything…

What readers are saying about The Lost Letters:

‘I LOVED this book!… I had to keep reading!… My heart broke.’ Mama’s Book Ramblins

A gorgeous debut, crackling with atmosphere and emotion.’ Lucinda Riley, bestselling author of The Love LetterThe Midnight Rose and The Seven Sisters

‘A beautiful, heart-warming, wonderfully written tale! I loved it from start to finish… A story that moved me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.’ Renita D’Silva

‘There is not one thing I did not love about this story. Right from the beginning, I was drawn in… The Lost Letters is a beautiful and poignant story that has completely captured my heart… By far, this might just be my top read for the year.’ Sinfully Wicked Books, 5 stars

‘I absolutely loved this book…I got a lump in my throat at times just reading this part of the story… an emotional, heart-wrenching, beautiful and poignant read that I completely fell in love with… Have the tissues ready for this one, you may need them!’ Katie’s Book Cave, 5 stars

Once I got into the book I found myself becoming seriously addicted to reading it… To say that I felt as though I had been through the emotional wringer during the reading of this book is an understatement… tugged on my heartstrings.’ Ginger Book Geek

Had me enthralled… a thought-provoking and moving story about identity, family, and friendship. With realistic and believable characters, clues to find and a mystery to solve, this will keep you entertained for hours.’ Novel Deelights

So heart-wrenching… what in the world would you do in that situation? There just is no good answer! A beautiful and intriguing story that will keep you turning those pages and wanting to hug your loved ones!’ Goodreads reviewer

‘What an amazing book… Couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

The Lost Letters is a well told and poignant story about family secrets which impact on the future, friendship, promises, decisions, and romance… vivid and heart-breaking… absolutely meticulous and totally fascinating.’ Goodreads reviewer

‘A very heart-warming read… a tear-jerker… I highly recommend it to all readers.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CWCRJ9W/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07CWCRJ9W/

Author Sarah Mitchell
Author Sarah Mitchell

About the author:

THE LOST LETTERS is my first novel, inspired by a visit to Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, where there is a row of iconic beach huts. Some of them looked very old to me, and it made me wonder for how many generations they might have been in the same family and handed down over the years…
I didn’t become a writer until I was in my forties. I studied law and after that practised as a barrister in London for nearly 20 years. For a long while I wanted to write a novel – inspired by my mother who used to write children’s stories for a radio programme called ‘Listen with Mother’ – but it took me a long while to take the plunge and actually make the dream happen. As well as the beach huts, THE LOST LETTERS draws on the decision my grandparents almost made to evacuate my mother to Canada at the start of the Second World War. So much has changed since then, and yet so much – the bonds within a family – are the same. I wanted to explore that in my writing.
I now live back in Norfolk, where I grew up, with my husband and three almost-grown-up children. Norfolk is an extraordinary county and I feel incredibly lucky to live here. I hope THE LOST LETTERS captures a little bit of the beauty of Norfolk, as well as the horror and hardship of war.

You can follow Sarah Mitchell on Twitter at @SarahM_writer

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarah-Mitchell/e/B07CWVN3FG/

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

The novel tells two stories centred in two different times, one set in the 1940s, mostly in WWII Norfolk, although with some visits to London, and another taking place now, also set in Norfolk in its majority. The chapters set in the past are written in the past tense from the point of view of Sylvia, a married woman, mother of two children, still pining for her teenage love. When her aunt dies she leaves her a beach hut and through it she meets Connie, a girl from London, and her brother Charlie. Despite the distance and the difficulty in maintaining communication during the war, they become friends, and their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

The chapters set in the present are written in the present tense (something I must confess took me some time to get used to, although it means it is very difficult to get confused as to where you are or who is talking), and told from the point of view of Martha, a Canadian teacher whose father was evacuated during the war from England to Canada. Following the death of her father and gaps in the information about his childhood (as he was working on an autobiography when he died), she decides to use the opportunity offered by her father’s plane ticket and the hotel and beach hut he had booked to do some research into his past.

Both women, whose stories most readers will guess must be connected in some way, have their own problems. Sylvia’s marriage is not exactly happy, the war takes her husband away, and apart from the everyday danger and destruction, she has to face the evacuation of her son. The author manages to create a good sense of the historical period and, in particular, of women’s lives during the war, without being heavy-handed in the use of descriptions or over-the-top in the nostalgic front. We experience the character’s turmoil, her doubts, and although we might not always agree with her decisions, it is easy to empathise and understand why she does what he does.

Martha is at a bit of a loss. She is divorced and although her ex-husband has moved on (he has remarried and has twins), it is not that clear if she has, as she still sends him birthday cards and seems jealous of her daughter’s relationship with her father’s new wife. She knows her relationship with her daughter Janey, who is studying at Cambridge, is strained but seems to have forgotten how to communicate with her. Her research into her father’s childhood and past gives her a focus, and the mystery behind Catkins (a file her sister finds in her father’s computer) and his/her identity help give her a purpose.

We have some male characters (and Martha’s father and his past are at the centre of the novel), but this is a novel about women: about mothers and daughters, about friends, about women pulling together to survive and to get stronger (I particularly enjoyed the chapters set during the war recalling the tasks women were doing in the home front, and how they supported each other becoming all members of an extended family), about the difficult decisions women were (and are) faced with for the good of their families and their children. The author is very good at conveying the thought processes of her characters and although it also has a great sense of place (and I am sure people familiar with Norfolk will enjoy the book enormously, and those of us who don’t know it as well will be tempted to put it on our list to visit in the future), in my opinion, its strongest point is its great psychological depth.

The book is well researched and it has a lightness of touch, avoiding the risk of slowing down the story with unnecessary detail or too much telling. As the different timelines are kept clearly separate I do not think readers will have any difficulty moving from one to the other.

The book flows well and the intrigue drives the reader through the pages, with red herrings and twists and turns included, although its pace is contemplative, as it pertains to the theme. It takes its time, and it allows its readers to get to know the characters and to make their own conjectures. I worked out what was likely to be the connection slightly before it was revealed, but it is very well done, and I don’t think readers will be disappointed by the ending.

A great first book, that pulls at the heartstrings, recommended to lovers of historical fiction and women’s fiction, especially those interested in WWII and the home front in the UK. I will be following the author’s career with interest in the future.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, to the author, and especially, thanks to all of you for reading my posts. If you enjoy them and you have a moment, please like, share, comment, click and don’t forget to keep reading and smiling! ♥

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview MUNICH by Robert Harris (@Robert___Harris) A solid and well-written #historicalfiction book with few surprises (@FTLOBOOKS)

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book I won in a giveaway by an author I’m happy to finally have read. More of his books to come, I am sure.

Munich by Robert Harris
Munich by Robert Harris

Munich by Robert Harris

MUNICH, SEPTEMBER 1938

Hitler is determined to start a war. Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace.

They will meet in a city which forever afterwards will be notorious for what is about to take place.

As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the channel and the Fuhrer’s train steams south, two young men travel with their leaders. Former friends from a more peaceful time, they are now on opposing sides.

As Britain’s darkest hour approaches, the fate of millions could depend on them – and the secrets they’re hiding.

Spying. Betrayal. Murder. Is any price too high for peace?

‘A brilliantly constructed spy novel’ Observer

‘Grips from start to finish … Superb’ Mail on Sunday

Imperium, the acclaimed play cycle based on Robert Harris’s Cicero novels, is running in the West End in summer 2018 – tickets now on sale!

https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Robert-Harris-ebook/dp/B01MR2AXVK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Munich-Robert-Harris-ebook/dp/B01MR2AXVK/

Hardback:

https://www.amazon.com/Munich-novel-Robert-Harris/dp/0525520260/

Author Robert Harris
Author Robert Harris

About the author:

Robert Harris is the author of eleven bestselling novels: the Cicero Trilogy – Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator – Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, The Ghost, The Fear Index, An Officer and a Spy, which won four prizes including the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and Conclave. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His forthcoming book, Munich, coming out in September 2017, is set over the four days of the Munich Conference, and is filled with the real-life characters and events of the time. Several of his books have been filmed, including The Ghost, which was directed by Roman Polanski. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty-seven languages and he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in West Berkshire with his wife, Gill Hornby, and four children.

https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Harris/e/B000APBPA4/

My review:

I obtained a hardback copy of this novel through a giveaway and thank Ash (@FTLOBOOKS) for her kindness and for the opportunity. I freely chose to review it.

Robert Harris is a familiar name for most readers and moviegoers. His novels and popular and many have been adapted to the screen (I particularly enjoyed The Ghost as I have a soft spot for films about writers). But although I have watched several adaptations of his novels, I cannot recall having read one of them, and I was happy to be given this opportunity. After reading it, I understand why he is so popular, and I don’t think this will be the last one of his novels I read.

Until I started to read the novel and later read some of the reviews, I did not know much about the historical background to it. The novel is classed as historical fiction and deals with the Munich Conference, that took place in September 1938, in a last ditch attempt at avoiding war with Germany (and Italy). The novel takes place in 4 days, from the 27th of September 1938 onwards, and covers the meeting between Hitler (for Germany), Mussolini (for Italy), Daladier (for France), and Chamberlain (for England), to try and settle Hitler’s demands for a return of the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia (mostly inhabited by German speakers and people of German origin) to German hands. The actual agreement was signed on the 30th, without the presence of the Czechs, who worried the return to Germany of that region would leave them weakened and unable to defend themselves against further German expansion. Harris sticks to the facts, and the novel is divided into four parts, one for each day of the conference, with the historical figures who were present represented fairly accurately, and the events following the correct chronology as well.

What makes it historical fiction is the fact that he introduces into the story two characters who did not exist in reality, and Englishman, Hugh Legat (one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries) and a German, Paul Hartmann (a German diplomat and member of the anti-Hitler resistance). They had met in Oxford and had also spent some time together in Germany, but had not seen each other in 6 year and had a bit of history, which we learn more about throughout the book. Whilst Legat is a family man and seems to be focused on his career and on doing things by the book, Hartmann is a bit more mysterious and has the heart of a spy. He is not averse to taking risks, has no family, is much more clued on what is at stake, and is seemingly more reckless as to putting others at risk. Of the two characters, perhaps Legat is the one we get to know better and the more recognisable and sympathetic type, whilst Hartmann shares less of his personal life. He is the one calling the shots but we get fewer glimpses of his true motivation and he seems to have less to lose, and that might make him more difficult to identify with but more interesting and intriguing. Both men are highly intelligent and sharp analysts, ideal candidates to become observers and stand-ins for the readers.

The book is written in the third person (extremely well) and alternates the point of view of both characters always making clear who we are reading about. Harris has a way of making characters and events that might feel familiar sound and look intriguing (something extremely difficult when there are so many players involved) and uses descriptions to great effect. As we follow these two characters, who are both insiders of this world of diplomacy and politics but not big influencers and therefore very restricted in what they can do without risking their own lives and those of others, we share with them the wonderment, the worry, and the awe at being in the presence of such important people and at such a momentous event. We also share their frustration at being unable to intervene and change the course of history (and that would have made an interesting speculative historical fiction novel, for sure) that in our case we know will end up in tragedy.

The pace of the novel is uneven. Due to how closely Harris follows the events, there are moments when the leaders are travelling, paperwork is being prepared, or when due to their roles, both characters and not in the thick of things, and although the novel is never boring (because of the great characterisation and the level of detail), it is not a page turner where the rhythm is frenzied and never lets off. There are tense moments at the beginning, then there are the actual meetings between the leaders, which are not witnessed by the two men, and then things pick up again. The secret documents being exchanged, the difficulty in arranging meetings or even exchanging a few words in such circumstances become increasingly clear as the conference comes close to an end, and both men become bolder and take bigger risks. The ending is somewhat anti-climactic (though realistic) but I don’t want to reveal too much.

I am not an expert in this historical period, but I did feel that I got a better insight into the events and also the historical protagonists of the Munich conference thanks to the novel. Reading some of the comments, it seems that many feel Harris has managed to make Chamberlain’s position and manoeuvres more understandable and agreeable, rather than adhering to the popular view that he was too weak and did not handle the negotiation well. Harris explains that after working on a documentary about the subject many years back, he had remained fascinated by this historical event and felt he had to write this book. (He also includes a lengthy bibliography acknowledging the sources he has used to write the book, which will be of great help to anybody looking for further information).

Here some examples of Harris’s writing in this novel:

Legat took out a large white cotton handkerchief and wiped his face. It would not do to turn up red-faced and perspiring. If there was one sin that was frowned upon above all others in the Private Office, it was appearing to be in a flap. (Harris, 2017, p. 10)

…because people believed what they wanted to believe — that was Goebbel’s great insight. They no longer had a need to bother themselves with inconvenient truths. He had given them an excuse not to think. (Harris, 2017, p. 139)

There is a very memorable scene, when shortly after the English delegation arrives at their hotel in Munich, they are regaled by  an oom-pah band playing in the street, in front of the hotel, The Lambeth Walk. Legat, very aptly, describes it as “surreal” (p. 212).

One of the moments that I thought better defined and explained Hartmann and his actions (because he had always been a firm believer in Germany and its nationhood and that had caused some friction with Legat in the past) was when he talks about Hitler and how they had ignored “the power of unreason” (p. 297), that he goes on to explain, saying that people kept making excuses for Hitler’s most extreme and bizarre behaviours (his antisemitism, his ethnic policies…), telling themselves that these were one offs that could be overlooked or ignored, whilst he now believed the most evil and the most extreme ideas and behaviours someone is capable of are what truly define him or her as a person.

I think this book works well as historical fiction and I’d recommend it to people who want to learn more about this particular historical episode without having to read several historical volumes. On the other hand, this is not a thriller or a standard spy novel, and although there are intriguing and mysterious aspects that quicken the pace, Harris sticks so closely to the actual events that he does not introduce major changes or surprises, even when it comes to his fictional characters. A solid and well-written historical fiction book and one that has convinced me I must read more of Robert Harris’s work.

Harris, R. (2017) Munich. London, UK: Hutchinson, Penguin Random House UK.

Thanks to Ash for the book and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it please remember to like, share, comment, click, keep reading, reviewing and smiling! 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog The Third Reich in 100 Objects: A Material History of Nazi Germany by Roger Moorhouse (@Roger_Moorhouse) (@penswordbooks) Great images and fabulous writing. #History #Photography

Hi all:

I bring you another book by Pen & Sword, and I think this one will be of interest to many people.

The Third Reich in 100 Objects by Roger Moorhouse

The Third Reich in 100 Objects: A Material History of Nazi Germany by Roger Moorhouse  (Author), Richard Overy (Author, Foreword) A Fantastic Book, didactic, entertaining, and moving. Great images and fabulous writing.

Hitler’s Third Reich is still the focus of numerous articles, books, and films: no conflict of the twentieth century has prompted such interest or such a body of literature.

Approaching the canon of World War II literature is a challenge for a general reader but the 100 objects approach is a novel and accessible presentation.

This is a compelling, frequently shocking and revelatory guide to the Third Reich that has been collated and presented by two of the world’s leading World War II historians.

The photographs gathered by Roger Moorhouse and Roger Moorhouse include Pervitin, Hitler’s Mercedes, Wehrmacht toilet paper, Hitler’s grooming kit, the Nuremberg courtroom, the Tiger Tank, fragments of flak, the Iron Cross and, of course, the Swastika and Mein Kampf.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Third-Reich-100-Objects-Material-ebook/dp/B0761TQX82/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Third-Reich-100-Objects-Material-ebook/dp/B0761TQX82/

Hardback:

https://www.amazon.com/Third-Reich-100-Objects-Material/dp/1784381802/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Third-Reich-in-100-Objects-Hardback/p/13559

Author Roger Moorhouse
Author Roger Moorhouse

About the author:

I was raised in Hertfordshire and ‘enjoyed’ an unspectacular career at Berkhamsted School, before being inspired to return to education by the East European Revolutions of 1989. Thereafter, I enrolled in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies of the University of London in 1990 to study history and politics. I graduated with an MA in 1994 and have since studied at the universities of Düsseldorf and Strathclyde, cunningly avoiding gaining a Ph.D. at either.

I began my writing career working for Professor Norman Davies. I collaborated with him on many of his recent publications, including Europe: A History, The Isles: A History, and Rising ’44. This working relationship culminated in 2002 with the publication, in three languages, of a co-authored study of the history of the city of Wrocław (the former German Breslau) entitled Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City.

2006 saw the publication of Killing Hitler, my first solo book. An account of the numerous attempts on Hitler’s life, it was a critical and commercial success and has been published in numerous other languages, including German, Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Japanese.

My most recent book – entitled Berlin at War – is a social history of Berlin during World War Two, which was published in the summer of 2010. Based on first-hand material such as unpublished diaries, memoirs, and interviews, the book gives a unique “Berlin-eye view” of the war. It has been well-received, with positive reviews in most major publications. Writing in the Financial Times, Andrew Roberts said of it that: “Few books on the war genuinely increase the sum of our collective knowledge of this exhaustively covered period, but this one does.”

My new book, published in August 2014, is The Devils’ Alliance, a history of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, one of the few remaining unexplored areas in the history of World War Two. It is published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Pact’s signature, in August 1939.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Roger-Moorhouse/e/B001H6N0AI/

Twitter:

 

My review:

Thanks to Alex and the rest of the team at Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have always been fascinated by antiques and collectibles, not so much for their monetary value, as for the stories (and the History) behind the objects. As museums prove, objects can make us feel closer to other cultures and eras, creating a tangible reminder of lands and times distant from ours. Some objects might have an intrinsic interest (they are made of valuable materials, or by well-known artists), others are interesting because of their owners (kings, queens, or famous historical figures, like writers, inventors, artists…), and others because of what they represent. Although no objects are good or bad in their own right, they become infused with meaning through the use they are put to, and they can make us feel all kinds of emotions, from delight to abject fear.

In this book, the author has collected a hundred objects to give us, as the subtitle states, ‘A Material History of Nazi Germany’. And he achieves his aim with flying colours. The author is an expert on the period and has written many books about Hitler and Nazi Germany, and although I’m sure different people would have chosen differently, the selection he has put together gives the reader a good understanding of all aspects of life in Nazi Germany. We find personal objects, both of the Nazis (from Hitler’s paint box and his moustache brush to medals, decorations, and death cards) and their victims (the well-known Judenstern [the yellow star Jews had to wear), a forced labourer’s ‘Work Card’, or Sophie Scholl’s Matriculation Card [a member of the White Rose resistance movement]), objects that illustrate everyday life under the regime (ration cards, a gas-mask, the devaluated German banknotes, Hindenburg Lights…), examples of propaganda (The Schattenmann [the shadow man, a warning against talking about military secrets], a variety of posters including one for the propaganda anti-Semitic film Der Ewige Jude, the Great German Art Exhibition Catalogue, and the many imposing buildings), objects directly related to the war, including weaponry (planes, tanks, bombs, even the V-2 Missile) and documents. Each object is accompanied by a brief note (around a page or so) explaining its origin and putting it into context.

Richard Overy’s introduction sets well the project of the book and its author and emphasises the importance of image for Hitler and his party. This becomes increasingly evident as one progresses through the book, where there are ample examples of uniforms, symbolism (like their use of runes, the swastika, and the German eagle), badges… The writing is both informative and compelling, and it varies to suit the nature of the object. Sometimes it is descriptive and fairly neutral, but at others, it is impossible to read without feeling grief, sadness, and/or anger. The book has the advantage of not following a narrative thread, whereby it is easy to read in fits and starts, and readers can pick and choose the objects they are interested in, or go through them all, as I did. If we read it from beginning to end, the objects form a chronological history of sorts, as we start with objects that reflect the beginning of the regime, and eventually get to weaponry and documents from the very end of the war. The last object is Göring’s cyanide capsule, so you get the idea.

There were objects I was familiar with, and others that I knew about but had never seen (for example, the iron bed of a psychiatric asylum, that, as a psychiatrist, I found particularly moving and horrifying), and some that were complete surprises, like a Hitler Elastolin Toy Figure, the Mutterkreuz (a cross given to mothers who had 4 children or more. The author summarises it thus: It signified, in effect, the politicisation of the German womb, [Moorhouse, p. 109]), or the very cute ‘Goliath’ miniature tank (sorry, but there are some lighter moments as well. In case you feel curious, you can check it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goliath_tracked_mine). What I was more impressed by, apart from the quality of both, images and writing, was the way these disparate objects and the narrative behind them managed to give me a good sense of what life was like at the time, without having to read tonnes and tonnes of pages full of dry information. This book illustrates well the power of images. I have read plenty of books set on that era and watched many movies that take place in the same historical period but seeing the real objects helped me feel closer to the action, the people, and the events than I had ever before.

I recommend this book to people interested in the history of the period who are not big experts on it and don’t want an exhaustive account of battles and events. I also recommend it to anybody thinking about writing a book about the era, or people who design sets or work sourcing props or designing backdrops and objects for theatre, television or film. There is plenty of material to inspire numerous productions, and it is all collected in a single, easy-to-read, and well-indexed volume, with notes that facilitate further research tasks. Another winning volume published by Pen & Sword.

A quick note: my version of the book is a hardback copy, but I’ve checked the e-book version and the images are as good as those in the print version (although depending on the use you are thinking of giving it, you might consider what suits you best, as there’s little difference in price between the two versions, but this varies depending on the store).

Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author for this outstanding book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview RETURN TO HIROSHIMA by Bob Van Laerhoven (@bobvanlaerhoven) An #ultra-noir novel for lovers of beautiful writing and dark subjects that probe the human psyche

Hi all:

I bring you a book by an author who’s already visited my blog and left a lasting impression. Here it is:

Book review of Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven
Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven

Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven

1995, Japan struggles with a severe economic crisis. Fate brings a number of people together in Hiroshima in a confrontation with dramatic consequences. Xavier Douterloigne, the son of a Belgian diplomat, returns to the city, where he spent his youth, to come to terms with the death of his sister. Inspector Takeda finds a deformed baby lying dead at the foot of the Peace Monument, a reminder of Hiroshima’s war history. A Yakuza-lord, rumored to be the incarnation of the Japanese demon Rokurobei, mercilessly defends his criminal empire against his daughter Mitsuko, whom he considers insane. And the punk author Reizo, obsessed by the ultra-nationalistic ideals of his literary idol Mishima, recoils at nothing to write the novel that will “overturn Japan’s foundations”…
Hiroshima’s indelible war-past simmers in the background of this ultra-noir novel. Clandestine experiments conducted by Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 during WWII become unveiled and leave a sinister stain on the reputation of the imperial family and the Japanese society as a whole.

PRAISE FOR RETURN TO HIROSHIMA:

Van Laerhoven’s Return to Hiroshima might well be the most complex Flemish crime novel ever written.
Fred Braekman, De Morgen, Belgium

A complex and grisly literary crime story which among other things refers to the effects of the nuclear attack on Japan.
Linda Asselbergs, Weekend, Belgium

Van Laerhoven skillfully creates the right atmosphere for this drama. As a consequence, the whole book is shrouded in a haze of doom. Is this due to Hiroshima itself, a place burdened with a terrible past? Or is the air of desperation typical for our modern society
Jan Haeverans, Focus Magazine, Belgium

Van Laerhoven won the Hercule Poirot Prize with Baudelaire’s Revenge. You’ll understand why after reading Return to Hiroshima
Eva Krap, Banger Sisters

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Return-Hiroshima-Bob-Van-Laerhoven-ebook/dp/B079NL7FNN/

https://www.amazon.com/Return-Hiroshima-Bob-Van-Laerhoven-ebook/dp/B079NL7FNN/

Author Bob Van Laerhoven
Author Bob Van Laerhoven

About the author:

Bob van Laerhoven was born on August 8th, 1953 in the sandy soil of Antwerp’s Kempen, a region in Flanders (Belgium), bordering to The Netherlands, where according to the cliché ‘pig-headed clodhoppers’ live. This perhaps explains why he started to write stories at a, particularly young age. A number of his stories were published in English, French, German, Spanish and Slovenian.

DEBUT
Van Laerhoven made his debut as a novelist in 1985 with “Nachtspel – Night Game.” He quickly became known for his ‘un-Flemish’ style: he writes colourful, kaleidoscopic novels in which the fate of the individual is closely related to broad social transformations. His style slowly evolved in his later novels to embrace more personal themes while continuing to branch out into the world at large. International flair has become his trademark.

AVID TRAVELLER

Bob Van Laerhoven became a full-time author in 1991. The context of his stories isn’t invented behind his desk, rather it is rooted in personal experience. As a freelance travel writer, for example, he explored conflicts and trouble-spots across the globe from the early 1990s to 2004. Echoes of his experiences on the road also trickle through in his novels. Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Gaza, Iran, Mozambique, Burundi, Lebanon, Iraq, Myanmar… to name but a few.

MASS MURDERS

During the Bosnian war, Van Laerhoven spent part of 1992 in the besieged city of Sarajevo. Three years later he was working for MSF – Doctors without frontiers – in the Bosnian city of Tuzla during the NATO bombings. At that moment the refugees arrived from the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. Van Laerhoven was the first writer from the Low Countries to be given the chance to speak to the refugees. His conversations resulted in a travel book: “Srebrenica. Getuigen van massamoord – Srebrenica. Testimony to a Mass Murder.” The book denounces the rape and torture of the Muslim population of this Bosnian-Serbian enclave and is based on first-hand testimonies. He also concludes that mass murders took place, an idea that was questioned at the time but later proven accurate.

MULTIFACETED OEUVRE

All these experiences contribute to Bob Van Laerhoven’s rich and commendable oeuvre, an oeuvre that typifies him as the versatile author of novels, travel stories, theatre pieces, biographies, non-fiction, letters, columns, articles… He is also a prize-winning author: in 2007 he won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best crime novel of the year with “De Wraak van Baudelaire – Baudelaire’s Revenge.” “Baudelaire’s Revenge” has been published in the USA, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium. Russian and Italian translations are in the making. In 2014, a second French translation of one of his titles has been published in France and Canada. “Le Mensonge d’Alejandro” is set in a fictitious South-American dictatorship in the eighties. The “junta” in this novel is a symbol for the murderous dictatorships in South-America (Chile and Argentine, to mention two)during the seventies and beginning of the eighties. In The Netherlands and Belgium, his novel “De schaduw van de Mol” (The Shadow Of The Mole) was published in November 2015. The novel is set in the Argonne-region of France in 1916. An English translation of the novel will be available in the US in 2017.
“Baudelaire’s Revenge” is the winner of the USA BEST BOOK AWARDS 2014 in the category Fiction: mystery/suspense.
In April 2015 The Anaphora Literary Press published the collection of short stories “Dangerous Obsessions” in the US, Australia, the UK, and Canada, in paperback, e-book, and hardcover. “Dangerous Obsessions” was voted “best short story collection of 2015 in The San Diego Book Review. In May 2017, Месть Бодлерa, the Russian edition of “Baudelaire’s Revenge” was published. “Dangerous Obsessions” has been published in 2017 in Italian, Portuguese, and Swedish editions. Spanish and Chinese translations will follow in 2018.

 

My review:

Thanks to the author for providing me a paperback copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I read and reviewed Baudelaire’s Revenge some time ago (you can check that review here) and I was fascinated and intrigued by it, so I did not think twice when the author told me he had published a new novel. Van Laerhoven’s work has won awards, been translated into several languages, and he has a unique voice that stays with the reader long after finishing the book. I don’t mean the stories and the plots of his books are not interesting (they are fascinating), but the way he writes about the historical period his stories are set in, and the characters he follows and analyses are distinct and unforgettable. His words are, at once, poetic and harsh, and they perfectly convey both, the utmost beauty and the extremes of cruelty and dejection that can be found in human beings.

When I reread my previous review, while I was preparing to write this one, I realised that much of what I had written there (apart from the specifics about the plot and the characters) applied also to this book. The author once more writes historical fiction, although this time it is closer to our era. The main action takes place in Japan in 1995, although, as the title might make us suspect, the story also goes back to 1945 (and even before) and towards the end of the book we have scenes set in that period, with all that involves.

The story is mostly narrated in the third person from the points of view of a variety of characters, a police inspector (who has to investigate the murder of a baby, a strange attack at a bank with a large number of casualties, and a bizarre assault on a tourist), a female photographer, a young man and a young woman members of a strange sect, a strange man/God/demon (who is more talked about than actually talking, although we get access to his memories at some point). There are also fragments narrated by a woman, who is in hiding when we first meet her, and whose identity and mental state will keep readers on tenterhooks.

Apart from the mystery elements and from the bizarre events, which at first seem disconnected but eventually end up by linking all the characters, I noticed some common themes. Families, family relationships, and in particular relationships between fathers and sons and daughters, take centre stage. The inspector’s search for his father and how that affects his life, the young woman’s relationship with her father, at the heart of the whole plot, the photographer’s relationship with her father, another famous photographer, and her attempts at finding her own identity as an artist… While some characters seem totally amoral (perhaps because they believe they are beyond usual morality), others are trying to deal with their guilt for things that they did or did not do. Some of the characters might feel too alien for readers to empathise with, but others experience emotions and feelings fully recognisable, and we feel sad for some of them at the end, but relieved for others. The claustrophobic and pressured atmosphere running against the background of the atomic bomb and its aftermath are perfectly rendered and help give the story an added layer of tension and depth.

This is a book of extremes and not an easy read. Although the language used is lyrical and breath-taking at times, there are harsh scenes and cruel behaviours described in detail (rape, drug use, torture, violence), so I would not recommend it to people who prefer to avoid such kinds of reading. I’ve seen it described as horror, and although it does not easily fit in that genre, in some ways it is far more unsettling and scarier than run-of-the-mill horror. This novel probes the depths of the human psyche and its darkest recesses, and you’ll follow the author there at your own peril.

I wanted to share some samples I highlighted that should not provide any spoilers for those thinking about reading it:

Books protected me from reality. I remember them as a choir of pale shapes, sometimes hysterical, other times comforting, vividly prophetic, or disquieting, like a piano being played in the dark. I’ve always been convinced that stories influence the mind: they haunt regions of the brain where reason has lost its way.

This one I find particularly relevant to this book (and I think most writers would know perfectly well what it’s getting at):

“Writers are like God. They love their characters, but take pleasure in the suffering they put them through. They torment themselves through the puppets they create and in the midst of the torment they discover a sort of rage, the rage you need to create. There’s a lot of sadomasochism in the universe and literature has its own fair share.”

Here, one of the characters talks about how she feels when she is depressed:

Her malady gave her the impression that the buildings and the people she saw were nothing more than pixels of energy bundled together by an insane artist who could shift around the worlds inside him like pieces of chess.

This ‘ultra-noir’ novel, as the blurb aptly describes it, is an extraordinary read, but is not a book for somebody looking for a typical genre thriller with slightly twisted characters. This is far darker than most of the thrillers I’ve read. But don’t let that put you off. As I said in my previous review of another one of the author’s novels, ‘if you’re looking for a complex and challenging historical novel and don´t shrink from dark subjects, this is a pretty unique book.’

Thanks to the author for his book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog THE ARTIST AND THE SOLDIER by Angelle Petta (@AngellePetta) A compelling WWII #historicalfiction novel, coming-of-age and M/M love story, and a fascinating backdrop #Bookreview

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book that’s officially released as this post publishes and one you should not miss.

The Artist and the Soldier by Angelle Petta
The Artist and the Soldier by Angelle Petta

The Artist and the Soldier by Angelle Petta

Two young men come of age and fall in love against the backdrop of true events in World War II—It’s 1938. Bastian Fisher and Max Amsel meet at a Nazi-American summer camp, Siegfried. Neither boy has any idea what to do with their blooming, confusing feelings for one another. Before they can begin to understand, the pair is yanked back into reality and forced in opposite directions. Five years later, during the heart of World War II, Bastian’s American army platoon has landed in Salerno, Italy. Max is in Nazi-occupied Rome where he has negotiated a plan to hire Jews as ‘extras’ in a movie—an elaborate ruse to escape the Nazis. Brought together by circumstance and war Bastian and Max find one another again in Rome.
Exploring the true stories of Camp Siegfried, a Nazi-American summer camp in New York and the making of the film, La Porta del Cielo, which saved hundreds of lives, The Artist, and the Soldier is intense, fast-moving, and sheds light on largely untouched stories in American and Italian history.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Artist-Soldier-Angelle-Petta-ebook/dp/B07CFWWFQL/

https://www.amazon.com/Artist-Soldier-Angelle-Petta-ebook/dp/B07CFWWFQL/

Author Angelle Petta
Author Angelle Petta

About the author:

Petta holds an MA from Emerson College and a master’s equivalency in Drama Therapy through the NADTA. She is a registered drama therapist and a Ph.D. student at Lesley University. She works as a Drama Therapist at an Expressive Arts Center in Virginia called A Place To Be.

She lives, works, and writes in Northern Virginia with her husband, two delightful dogs, and one fat cat.

https://www.amazon.com/Angelle-Petta/e/B07BYCPWD9/

 

My review:

When I was approached about the possibility of reviewing this book, I was fascinated by the historical background behind it, which I was not familiar with. A book combining World War II, Nazi summer camps in the US, the filming of a movie by Vittorio De Sicca in Rome during the war, and a love story, had to be a winner.

The author manages to combine a coming-of-age (both male protagonists, Max and Bastian, are very young at the beginning of the book) and love story with a fascinating historical background. The two youths meet at a Nazi summer camp in New York. Both their fathers are German and want them to grow up aware of their heritage. Max and Bastian are, in many ways, mirror images of each other, opposites that, indeed, attract. Bastian looks German (blond, tall, strong), is impulsive and always excels when it comes to sports, and outdoor activities, whilst Max takes after his Italian mother, is quiet, and has the soul of an artist. They both suffer trauma and have difficult childhoods, although in different ways. The unlikely pair becomes close and Bastian supports Max when tragedy strikes, although things take a bad turn, and they end up separated by life and circumstances.

They go their separate ways, and we keep waiting, convinced they will meet again. Bastian is still daring, impulsive, and is plagued by self-hatred and doubt. Max, who has always been more accepting of his own identity and has become stronger and more determined, has been living in Italy, has studied film, and finds a great opportunity to help Italian Jews. He takes part in the project of filming a movie under the protection of the Vatican and comes up with the idea of offering them contracts there. De Sica is determined to keep filming for as long as he can to keep all those people safe, and this historical fact provides a fascinating backdrop to the story of the two lovers.

The story, told in the third person, follows the point of view of the two male characters first, and later we also get to read about the adventures of Ilsa, Bastian’s sister, a fantastic character, from her point of view. She is strong, a fighter, and is determined to find her brother, no matter how far she has to go and what she has to do. Her experiences as a nurse during the war are gripping, and she keeps working despite terrible personal loss, hardship, and deprivation. Her character allows us to see things from a different perspective and also provides us more background into Bastian’s character, that is, perhaps, the most complex of the book, at least in my opinion.

Although the love story is central to the book, this is not a light and easy book to read. Apart from the tragedy and the terrible events that happen during the war, there is child abuse, mental illness, bullying, and the novel does not shy away from the unsavoury aspects of life. The characters are not all good and perfect either, and they sometimes do things that are questionable, while at others they can behave like true heroes.

The writing beautifully conveys the emotions of the characters, the setting (Rome as an open city provides a great backdrop), and the relationships, without going over the top with the descriptions, and ensuring the story keeps moving at a good pace. Being a big movie fan, I would have liked to read more about the filming of the movie, but the author refrains from getting sidetracked, and the guest appearances by the actors of the film and the interventions by De Sica are all the more enjoyable for being kept under control and not overwhelming the main story.

I wanted to share a couple of quotes from the book:

“Travel safely, signora. It is a dangerous world we are living in.” Her world had always been a dangerous one. A gun instead of a fist, a war instead of an irate father, her present didn’t feel so different from her past.” (This reflection belongs to Ilsa, Bastian’s sister).

Did something as inconsequential as film belong in this new world? It was De Sica who’d helped him see his misconception. “We need film, and music, and art, more than ever now,” De Sica had said. “These mediums help us remember that we are humans living in a world filled with monsters. What we are doing here is not frivolous. It is saving us, our humanity.” (Max questions his vocation, but De Sica comes to the rescue).

The ending feels appropriate and fits in well with a love story. It shows that both characters have grown and learned to accept who they are and what their relationship means. Other issues are resolved as well, and although some of the coincidences and the way the characters always seem to be in the right place at the right time require some suspension of disbelief, this does not go beyond the expectations for the genre.

In an end note, the author explains the conception of the story and clarifies that although Max, Bastian, and Ilsa are creations of her own imagination, the historical events and backdrop are accurate, and she has used her fictional characters as a conduit to tell the story. I believe this would be a great selection for book clubs, as there is much to discuss and many interesting aspects that will attract readers of different types of stories.

I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in WWII, Italian cinema, and love stories with complex protagonists. I look forward to following the author’s career in the future.

In case you are interested, the author has shared a link to an article about the Nazi summer camps in the US in an interview. Here it is:

https://www.npr.org/sections/npr-history-dept/2015/04/28/402679062/nazi-summer-camps-in-1930s-america

Thanks to the author for her book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and to keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog JONAH by Carl Rackman (@CarlRackman) #RBRT A ripping good read recommended to lovers of WWII historical fiction in a naval setting and atmospheric thrillers.

Hi all:
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and you’re enjoying Boxing Day and the holiday season. As I know sometimes we fancy something non-Christmassy and we like to have a break, I thought I’d bring you the review of a book that is not precisely seasonal. But it’s a great read.

Jonah by Carl Rackman
Jonah by Carl Rackman

Jonah by Carl Rackman

The North Atlantic, 1940. A British destroyer pounces on a seemingly abandoned U-boat, leading to a spine-chilling encounter.

Five years later, the US Navy destroyer Brownlee grimly prepares to battle a swarm of Japanese kamikazes at Okinawa.

Mitch “Lucky” Kirkham, a young gunner on the Brownlee, wakes up miraculously unscathed after his crewmates are killed in a fearsome kamikaze strike.

Bullied and resented amid accusations of cowardice and worse, Mitch re-boards his patched-up ship for the long voyage back to San Francisco. All he wants is to go home.

But far out in the boundless emptiness of the Pacific, a strange madness begins to seize the sailors on the Brownlee. Terror, hysteria, and suicide torment the men amid sightings of ghosts and a terrifying monster that stalks the ship by night.

Mitch stumbles upon a possible explanation for the madness. But as the ship presses on alone, deeper into the vast Pacific Ocean and the grip of insanity, will anyone listen to him before his famous luck runs out for good?

Jonah is a searing, psychological suspense thriller, the latest from Carl Rackman, author of Irex and Voyager.

Praise for Carl Rackman:

“A spectacularly good first novel” – Terry Tyler, author of Tipping Point and The Devil You Know
“This a truly excellent book” – Amazon Reviewer
“A very enjoyable, well-written debut from a new writer well worth keeping an eye on.” – Amazon Reviewer
“I have to say it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel. It’s so good and the quality of the writing is excellent throughout.” – Between The Lines Blog Review
“Mr Rackman is an exceptional writer and this is a superb first outing – a psychological thriller, a seafaring adventure, and first-rate murder mystery.” – Noelle Granger, Author of Rae Brewster Mysteries series

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jonah-Carl-Rackman-ebook/dp/B0773YVYCK/

https://www.amazon.com/Jonah-Carl-Rackman-ebook/dp/B0773YVYCK/

Author Carl Rackman
Author Carl Rackman

About the author:

Hi! I’m Carl Rackman, a British former airline pilot turned author. I come from a naval military background and have held a lifelong interest in military history and seafaring.

I spent my working life travelling the world and this has given me a keen interest in other people and cultures. I’ve drawn on my many experiences for my writing.

I write suspense thrillers with a flair for evocative descriptions of locales and characters. I enjoy complex, absorbing storylines combined with rich, believable characters, so that’s the sort of fiction I write. I try to create immersive worlds for the reader to explore, and characters who are more than just vehicles for the story.

I hope you’ll enjoy my books and leave reviews. I try to personally thank reviewers if they’ve particularly enjoyed my books.

You can usually find me on Twitter – @CarlRackman – I’d love to link up with you as followers.

Thanks for looking,
Carl

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Carl-Rackman/e/B01MSEXRCF/

My review:

I write this review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you want to have your books reviewed, check here. I know I am one of the members, but it is a great team) and I thank Rosie and the author for providing me an ARC copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

Although I had read great reviews of one of Rackman’s previous books, Irex, I had not read his work yet but I was eager to check his new novel, especially as it came greatly recommended by other reviewers from Rosie’s team.

The novel did not disappoint. It is a thriller set (mostly) in a US Navy destroyer in the Pacific during WWII. Moby Dick is one of my favourite novels (depending on the moment you ask me, my favourite) and I do like a story set at sea, although I’m not an expert on the topic. As we read the novel it becomes clear that the author has researched the historical period and the setting well and he is skilled at making readers get under the skin of the characters and share in their experiences and settings. Although some of the nautical terms might not be familiar to us, we can easily guess from the context, and we share in the heat, exhaustion, tension, anxiety, fear, and camaraderie. The setting of the novel, the destroyer, apart from being a confined space is a microcosms where we can find men from all walks of life, career navy men, enlisted men, older and younger men, some who’d never even seen the sea and others from long nautical tradition, and men from a variety of religions, ethnic backgrounds, and regions of the USA. These men are thrown together to fight a war under extreme circumstances and when we meet them they have all experienced things we would not wish on anyone.

The story is written in the third person, mostly from the point of view of Mitch Kirkham, “Lucky” Kirkham, a gunner who seems fated to survive when everybody around him dies. Early in the book, we witness another example of his good luck (by that point he had already earned his nickname following a battle in Okinawa where he was one of the few survivors), but unfortunately, not everybody sees things the same way, and he gets bullied and victimised, accused of being a coward. To add to his difficulties, strange things start happening on the ship. Some of the men start experiencing unusual things, there is paranoia, violence, deaths, and the weirdest explanations are suggested. His peers insist that Mitch is a Jonah (they believe he is bringing them bad luck or worse and want to throw him overboard), and his life becomes increasingly complicated.

The narrative of what happens in the ship (mostly from Mitch’s point of view, although at times, often when he is out of action, we also share in the point of view of a few other characters, like the medic of the ship, or the second in command), is interspersed with flashbacks (or memories) of incidents of the past of some of the men in the ship, usually those that end up right in the middle of the action. These snippets give us a better idea of what these men were like at home, in their real lives, when they were not cogs in the Navy machine, and they provide clues as to the psychological make-up of the characters (and also make us wonder what they might all have in common). Although the novel is mostly action-driven, we get brief glimpses into the men’s personalities and motives that add to the complexity and to the enjoyment for those of us who like well-defined characters.

As a psychiatrist and somebody who enjoys psychological thrillers, I started wondering about the situation and coming up with my own theory from early on (no, I won’t share any spoilers). Yes, I was right; although the nitty-gritty detail is not fully revealed until the very end of the book and it is… Well, if you like conspiracy theory books, I think you’ll be pleased. It is also very believable and that is the scariest aspect of it. I had to do some research of my own after reading the book, because although I had read about some aspects of the story (it is not based on real events, but it realistically portrays the life of navy men at war and the way the Navy operated), I did not realise the extremes to which these men were subject to.

The book is not only vividly written, intriguing, and tense, but it also deals with many important topics, such as survivors’ guilt, PTSD, war and fighting, the treatment of the combatants, experimentation, and the use of attention-enhancing drugs and its dangers.

And yes, as a Moby Dick lover, I did particularly enjoy the end.

As mentioned, the book is well researched and there is a glossary of terms and also an author’s note to explain the background to the story and clarify which aspects are based on truth and which have come out of the author’s imagination.

I’d recommend it to lovers of historical fiction, especially set in WWII, people who love atmospheric thrillers, within a naval setting and to anybody who enjoys a ripping good read.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and to have a very Merry Holiday Season!

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