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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE SHADOW OF THE MOLE by Bob Van Laerhoven (@bobvanlaerhoven) A dark and beautiful novel set during WWI that explores the depths of people’s minds and souls #literaryfiction #WWI

Hi all:

I want to share the review of a novel by an author those of you who read my blog regularly will already be familiar with. He never disappoints and his books are always pretty special.

The Shadow of the Mole by Bob Van Laerhoven

The Shadow of the Mole by Bob Van Laerhoven

1916, Bois de Bolante, France. The battles in the trenches are raging fiercer than ever. In a deserted mineshaft, French sappeurs discover an unconscious man, and nickname him The Mole.

Claiming he has lost his memory, The Mole is convinced that he’s dead, and that an Other has taken his place. The military brass considers him a deserter, but front physician and psychiatrist-in-training Michel Denis suspects that his patient’s odd behavior is stemming from shellshock, and tries to save him from the firing squad.

The mystery deepens when The Mole begins to write a story in écriture automatique that takes place in Vienna, with Dr. Josef Breuer, Freud’s teacher, in the leading role. Traumatized by the recent loss of an arm, Denis becomes obsessed with him, and is prepared to do everything he can to unravel the patient’s secret.

Set against the staggering backdrop of the First World War, The Shadow Of The Mole is a thrilling tableau of loss, frustration, anger, madness, secrets and budding love. The most urgent question in this extraordinary story is: when, how, and why reality shifts into delusion?

“The Flemish writer Bob Van Laerhoven writes in a fascinating and compelling way about a psychiatric investigation during WW1. The book offers superb insight into the horrors of war and the trail of human suffering that results from it” – NBD Biblion

https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Mole-Bob-Van-Laerhoven-ebook/dp/B09RTTK28K/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadow-Mole-Bob-Van-Laerhoven-ebook/dp/B09RTTK28K/

https://www.amazon.es/Shadow-Mole-English-Bob-Laerhoven-ebook/dp/B09RTTK28K/

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, Polish, 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 colorful, 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, and Russia. 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. In 2017 followed “Dossier Feuerhand (The Firehand Files), set in Berlin in 1921.

“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, 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 Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, and Spanish editions. In January 2018 followed “Heart Fever”, a second collection of short stories, published by The Anaphora Literary Press. The collection came out in German, Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish. “Heart Fever” was one of the five finalists – and the only non-American author – of the Silver Falchion Award 2018 in the category “short stories collections.” In April 2018, Crime Wave Press (Hong Kong) brought forth the English language publication of “Return to Hiroshima”, Brian Doyle’s translation of the novel “Terug naar Hiroshima”. The British quality review blog “MurderMayhem&More” listed “Return to Hiroshima” in the top ten of international crime novels in 2018. Readers’ Favorite gave Five Stars. In August 2021, Next Chapter published “Alejandro’s Lie,” the English translation of “Alejandro’s leugen.”

https://www.amazon.com/Bob-Van-Laerhoven/e/B00JP4KO76/

My review:

I thank the publisher and the author for the ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review. Having read three of Van Laerhoven’s novels before (in their English translations), I knew I had to read this one, especially because of the early psychiatry theme that plays such an important part in the story. I might not work as a psychiatrist now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find it a fascinating topic. And it is particularly well-suited to fiction.

To do full justice to this novel would require a very long review (even by my standards, and I do tend to go on a bit), perhaps even a whole book, but I will try and cover a few aspects of it while not spoiling it for readers. To be honest, although there is a mystery (well, mysteries) in this book, there are many interpretations possible, and I have no doubt that reading it will be a complex and unique experience for each and every reader.

The setting is momentous, both in space and time (the French trenches during WWI), but the book contains a variety of narratives, not only the overall story taking place in chronological order and involving a young psychiatrist (Michel Denis) who has recently lost an arm, during the war, when we meet him, and his adventures (both professional and personal), but also the story of the Mole, a man found at the very beginning of the novel in one of the tunnels the soldiers are digging. (That aspect of the novel, the setting in WWI, and some of the psychiatric elements reminded me of Regeneration by Pat Barker, a novel I recommend as well to anybody interested in the subject. The two books are very different, though.) He claims he has lost his memory when they find him, and he also says he is dead. The main way he communicates with others around him is through his writing, a story set many years earlier, full of symbolism, darkness, violence, and surreal elements, and whose protagonist cannot truly be him, but somehow comes to be identified with him. This diary/novel seems to be the result of automatic writing, and we have the opportunity to read it as well and reach our own conclusions. We are also provided with several letters, extremely personal in nature, one written by a character we meet earlier in the story, and another one by a character who plays a very small role in the events. And although we mostly see things from Michel Denis’s point of view (although written in the third person), we also get access to the diary of a very peculiar (and wonderful) psychiatrist he meets later in the book, Dr. Ferrand, who challenges him and helps him face his own fears and issues. Don’t worry, though. Although the book is complex, this is due to the concepts and issues it raises, not the way the story is told. The narrative is not straightforward, and it is far from an easy read, but the way the story is told is not confusing, and the changes in point of view and narrative are clearly signalled.

The novel is a kaleidoscope of narratives, perspectives, opinions, true events, dreams, imagination… and the veil separating all those is very thin indeed. The author and his book ask some pretty big questions: what makes a human being feel whole? Is it a matter of physical health, appearance and looks, having a name and identity recognised and respected by others, having a job title, holding a position, and being part of a family? What makes us human, and how much cruelty, suffering, and pressure can we endure before we disappear or become a shadow, dead to the world? How do we develop our personalities and what makes us who we are? It is only a matter o genetics, or experiences, trauma, education, influences, role models, and everything around us play a part?

Discussing the characters is not easy, because, at least as it pertains to the main characters, our experience in reading this book is akin to being privileged witnesses of their undergoing an analysis that digs deep into their minds, their early memories, their dreams… Although the mysterious identity of the Mole is at the centre of the novel (or so it seems), learning who Michael Denis really is, is as important, and we discover many truths about some of the other characters in the process. Many of them are perhaps things we’d rather not know, but we cannot choose. Everything is somehow related, and every piece of the puzzle is necessary for the final reveal (which I won’t talk about).

As I had mentioned psychiatry and my interest in it, for those who might feel as intrigued as I am, there are wonderful references to the early figures of the history of psychiatry, important psychiatric texts, famous cases… which I thoroughly enjoyed, but more than anything, I loved the discussions between Michel and Dr. Ferrand, who is a man and a professional with great insight and with ideas well before his time. His comments about the nature of psychiatry and the way it might evolve are both beautiful and thought-provoking.

Talking about beautiful, the writing is gorgeous. The different sections are written in very different styles, as it befits the characters doing the writing within the story, but they are all compelling, feel true, and are powerfully descriptive. We might be reading about a bombing, a sexual assault (yes, this book is not a light read, quite the opposite, and readers should be warned about the dark nature of the story), a historical event, or a beautiful landscape, and we feel as if we had a first-row seat, even though sometimes we’d rather be anywhere else. Reading the biography of the author is easy to understand how all he writes rings so true, as he has lived and witnessed extremes of human behaviour most of us will never (luckily) have to confront.

A few quotes from the book:

“We’re moths in the night, burning our wings every time there’s a ray of light.”

It wasn’t a sound. It was every sound sucked away from the world by a powerful vortex that distorted time so that the world shrivelled and subsequently expanded until a point where everything had to burst. In front of Denis, the wall erupted open, and behind it a great bull was belching fire.

Remember you said you couldn’t live with yourself anymore after your arm had been hacked off? That’s how you said it: hacked off. And here’s what I thought, if you can’t live with yourself, who is being ‘you’ then?

The book includes poems, quotes from famous (and not so famous) books, songs… some in French and German, and these are translated in a series of notes easily accessible, even in e-book format.

I recommend this book to readers looking for deep meanings, who love historical fiction that goes beyond the usual, who are prepared to face the darker aspects of human behaviour and the human soul, and to anybody looking for a new author who is not afraid to move beyond convention and to make us face some dark truths. A complex and rich book for those who dare to ask some tough questions. I hope it helps you find the answers you were looking for.

Thanks to the publisher and the author for this novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember, if you have a chance, to comment, share, click, like, and especially, to keep smiling and safe.

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING by Stephen J. Golds (@SteveGone58) The best fictional depiction of OCD I’ve ever read. Hard-hitting, tough, and non-PC. Fabulous #OCD #noir

Hi all:

I’ve caught up with an author many of you felt curious about when I first reviewed one of his novels.

I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds

I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds

DO ALL SONS BECOME THEIR FATHERS?

Ben Hughes is a corrupt Boston Vice Detective and bagman for the Southie Mob.
Already desperately struggling with obsessive compulsions and memories of a traumatic childhood, his world begins to fall apart at the seams, triggered by the photograph of a missing child in the newspaper and the anniversary of his father’s death twenty years earlier.

‘I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING’ IS THE STORY OF A BAD MAN BECOMING WORSE…

https://www.amazon.com/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

https://www.amazon.es/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

Author Stephen J. Golds

About the author:

Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novels are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone (Red Dog Press) Always the Dead (Close to the Bone) Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows and the forthcoming collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand

https://www.amazon.com/Stephen-J-Golds/e/B08TX1Q8TM/

 My review:

I was offered an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I read a review Always the Dead by Stephen J. Golds a few months ago (you can check my review here), loved it, and when I shared my review on my blog quite a few people were intrigued and interested. Unfortunately, there were problems with that particular edition of the book, and it was removed from sale, but that didn’t diminish my interest and enthusiasm. Quite the opposite. Evidently, when I was given the opportunity to review a new novel by the same author, I couldn’t resist. And let me tell you, wow!

 Many of my comments about the previous novel apply here as well. This novel is darker than noir, harder than hard-boiled, and the characters are true bad-asses, but they are far deeper and better drawn than most bad characters are in novels. I have said, more than once, that I don’t need the protagonist of the books I read to be good to feel engaged and to be able to root for them, and I have always had a bit of a soft spot for anti-heroes and unusual main characters. We might not like to be reminded that we all have a dark side, and that we can do bad things as well (sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not so much), but as long as the characters’ behaviour can be understood at a certain level, and we can follow their journey and understand their motivations, no matter how little I like what they do, I’m happy to read about them. In the author’s note, at the end of the book, he explains that he decided to write this book because bad characters are always the antagonists, and very often we never get to understand why they do what they do; they are simply there as a foil to test the hero, a difficulty to be overcome, and he felt they should be given a chance.

Although the main protagonist of the novel is Ben Hughes, a British man who emigrated to the US (Boston) with his mother when he was quite young, the book also tells the story of his father, William, who was in the Met police, in London, and who, like his son, had survived a war but had been badly affected by it. The action and the setting are split into two timelines, separated by twenty years, as the father’s story takes place in 1926 and the son’s in 1946, in the days coming up to the 20th anniversary of his father’s death. There are many similarities in the behaviour of the two characters (Ben is a detective working for the Boston Police Department, but he has other fairly illegal occupations, and, in fact, he uses his job as a cover for the least pleasant aspects of his personality), and violence, corruption, threats, blackmail… are ways of life for both. But while we get much more of an insight into Ben’s motivations and traumas (growing up with a father like his was incredibly tough, and we get a first-row seat into some of his experiences through his memories and flashbacks of his childhood abuse), we don’t get to know that much about William. We don’t know anything about his life before the war, although we learn about a French woman’s betrayal and about the way the war seems to have dehumanised him, as he perceives violence now as an expedient way to get whatever he wants (because at least he is using it now in his own benefit, rather than for free at the behest of others). His alcohol consumption doesn’t help matters either, and he is unrepentant.

His son, Ben, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and, as a psychiatrist and a reader, I must say I have never come across such a vivid and accurate depiction of the condition. The author explains that he feels this illness is always trivialized in popular media, and many aspects of it are never mentioned or delved upon, and he is absolutely right. I am sure many of us can bring to mind characters in books and movies who are supposed to suffer from OCD, but in most cases, it is only anecdotal, a minor hindrance, not something central to the character’s life. Although the story is told in the third person, Golds immerses us into the minds of the protagonists (we also get the point of view of some minor characters at times, but these are brief scenes, not quite as powerful or in-depth, although I particularly enjoyed meeting again a character from the other novel), and, in the case of Ben, that makes for a very uncomfortable experience. Beyond his actions (that yes, are extreme and hard, to say the least), we are locked inside a mind that is forever trying to fight repetitive thoughts (of contamination, paranoid thoughts, suspicions, guilt…), compulsions, engaging in routines (counting, repeating a poem) to guard against evil and doom, trapped by magical thinking… It is not surprising that his mind unravels as more and more of the things and people who moored him into his precarious existence fail him, and he cannot retain any sense of balance or equilibrium.

The writing style, the repetitions, the interruptions, the combination of short, sharp, and quick sentences combined with beautifully observed (even when ugly) descriptions of people and places, recreate the workings of the main character’s mind and reminded me somewhat of stream of consciousness, a writing technique often used by modernist writers. Although there is plenty of action, a plot thick with events and characters (from the lowest of the low to the highest echelons of society), this is not an easy linear read. The story follows a chronological order, alternating the chapters set in the 1920s and the 1940s, but there are many intrusions and flashbacks that can be disorienting and make the readers empathise (if not sympathise, as that is more difficult) with Ben. He is not good, as I said, and nobody could easily condone his actions, but he is trying to hold on to his soul and wants to help a child to make amends, as he wishes someone would have helped him all those years back. Even though the psychological insight into the protagonist’s psyche is one of the strongest points of the novel, the author also captures beautifully the atmosphere of both periods, the interactions between the characters, the way the gangs and tribes communicate, and the struggle for power (both inside and outside the law). I recommend people thinking of reading it to check a sample of the book, but I strongly advise giving it a good chance and not reading only a few lines, as it wouldn’t give them a fair idea of what the experience is like.

Despite my recommendation, I had to share a few lines with you:

Here, Ben describes how he feels when he sees a picture of a missing boy:

Something like a bullet in the back. A blade across the throat. A headache like a hammer blow to his skull and the start of a fever boiling underneath his clothes.

Distorted images passing through his head like the headlights of a speeding hearse down a black street.

And here, one of Ben’s routines:

He counted his steps in groups of seven. He reached the bakery in four sets. Four was an unlucky number. He turned around and walked back seven spaces, turned and walked back. Cancelling out the bad. Creating order….. He counted the steps up to her door. Twelve. Went back over two steps to make it fourteen. Two sets of seven. Felt relief.

As I had warned in my previous review, this is a novel that would fit perfectly in the publishing world of the era the main action is set in (the late 1940s), but not so much now. I had warned about possible triggers there, and here we have them all as well: brutal violence, corruption, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault… and anybody who might feel offended or upset by any of these subjects or preferring to read a book that fits into current political correctness sensibilities should be advised to stay away. This is a hard book, not without its moments of humour (very, very dark), and it deals in serious subjects, which, unfortunately, no matter how much the language we use has changed, are still present and as disturbing and ugly as ever. If you dare dig deep into the mind of a bad man and are not worried about, perhaps, getting to understand him and feel sorry for him, go on and read. Luckily, I have another one of Golds’ books waiting for me.

Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, keep reading, have as much fun as you can, and keep smiling!

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog No Woman is an Island: Inspiring and Empowering International Women (Pandora’s Boxed Set) by Liza Perrat (@LizaPerrat), Linda Gillard, Lorna Fergusson, Clare Flynn, Helena Halme A highly recommended set of stories #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you the review of a boxed set today, 5 full-length novels, so, as you can imagine, it’s going to be long, so you’ve been warned. It’s a fantastic collection though, so you might want to read on.

No Woman Is an Island boxed set

No Woman is an Island: Inspiring and Empowering International Women (Pandora’s Boxed Set) by Liza Perrat (@LizaPerrat)Linda GillardLorna FergussonClare FlynnHelena Halme 

Together for the first time: award-winners and trail-blazers. Five international women authors showcase five unforgettable novels.

Blood Rose Angel, by Liza Perrat
1348, France. A bone-sculpted angel and the woman who wears it––heretic, Devil’s servant, saint.
Despite her bastardy, Héloïse has earned respect in the French village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for her midwifery and healing skills. Then the Black Death sweeps into France.

Hidden, by Linda Gillard
A birth. A death. Hidden for a hundred years.
1917.“Lady, fiancé killed, will gladly marry officer totally blinded or otherwise incapacitated by the war.” When Miranda Norton inherits Myddleton Mote and its art collection she is haunted by the dark secrets of a woman imprisoned in a reckless marriage.

The Chase, by Lorna Fergusson
The past will hunt you down.
Gerald Feldwick tells his wife Netty that in France they can put the past behind them. Alone in an old house, deep in the woods of the Dordogne, Netty is not so sure.
Netty is right.

The Chalky Sea, by Clare Flynn
July 1940. When bombs fall, the world changes for two troubled people.
Gwen knows her husband might die in the field but thought her sleepy English seaside town was safe. Amid horror and loss, she meets Jim Armstrong, a soldier far from the cosy life of his Ontario farm. Can war also bring salvation?

Coffee and Vodka, by Helena Halme
Eeva doesn’t want to remember, but in Finland she must face her past.
‘In Stockholm, everything is bigger and better.’ Her Pappa’s hopes for a better life in another country adjust to the harsh reality but one night, Eeva’s world falls apart. Thirty years later, Eeva needs to know what happened.
 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B094473R67/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B094473R67/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B094473R67/

About the authors:

Author Liza Perrat

Liza Perrat

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.
Several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.

Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in the historical “The Bone Angel” series set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution. The second in the series, Wolfsangel, set during the WWII German Occupation of France, was published in October, 2013. The third in the series, Blood Rose Angel, set during the 14th century Black Plague years was published in November, 2015.

The Silent Kookaburra, a domestic noir, psychological suspense novel set in 1970s Australia, was published in November, 2016. The second in this Australian family drama series, The Swooping Magpie, was published in October, 2018. The third in this series, The Lost Blackbird, was published in August, 2020.

Friends & Other Strangers is a collection of award-winning short stories from Downunder.

Liza is available for virtual book club visits (via Skype) upon request.

https://www.amazon.com/Liza-Perrat/e/B008385OF2/

 

Linda Gillard

Linda Gillard lives in North Lanarkshire, Scotland. She’s the author of nine novels, including STAR GAZING (Piatkus), shortlisted in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and The Robin Jenkins Literary Award for writing that promotes the Scottish landscape.

Linda’s fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller. It was selected by Amazon as one of their Top Ten Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category.

In 2019 Amazon’s Lake Union imprint re-published THE TRYSTING TREE as THE MEMORY TREE and it became a #1 Kindle bestseller.

https://www.amazon.com/Linda-Gillard/e/B0034PV6ZQ/

Author Lorna Fergusson

Lorna Fergusson

Lorna Fergusson was born in Scotland and lives in Oxford with her husband and two sons. She runs Fictionfire Literary Consultancy and for many years has also taught creative writing, including at the University of Winchester’s Writers’ Festival and for Oxford University’s Department of Continuing Education’s various writing programmes. Her novel ‘The Chase’ was originally published by Bloomsbury and is now republished by Fictionfire Press on Kindle and as a paperback. Her stories have won an Ian St James Award, been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. Her chapter on Pre-writing appears in ‘Studying Creative Writing’, published by The Professional and Higher Partnership. Her story, ‘Reputation’, a finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s short story prize 2012, appears in the e-anthology ‘The Beggar at the Gate’. She is working on a collection of historical stories and a novel, the opening of which won Words with Jam Magazine’s First Page competition in 2014. Also in 2014, she won the Historical Novel Society’s London 2014 Short Story Award with her story ‘Salt’, which now appears in the Historical Novel Society’s anthology ‘Distant Echoes’.

https://www.amazon.com/Lorna-Fergusson/e/B0034PRAP6/

Author Clare Flynn

 

Clare Flynn

Historical novelist Clare Flynn is a former global marketing director and business owner. She now lives in Eastbourne on the south coast of England and most of her time these days is spent writing her novels – when she’s not gazing out of her windows at the sea.

Clare is the author of twelve novels and a short story collection. Her books deal with displacement – her characters are wrenched away from their comfortable existences and forced to face new challenges – often in outposts of an empire which largely disappeared after WW2.

Her latest novel, A Painter in Penang, was published on 6th October 2020. It is set in Malaysia in 1948 during the Malayan Emergency.

Clare’s novels often feature places she knows well and she does extensive research to build the period and geographic flavour of her books. A Greater World – 1920s Australia; Kurinji Flowers – pre-Independence India; Letters from a Patchwork Quilt – nineteenth century industrial England and the USA; The Green Ribbons – the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century in rural England, The Chalky Sea – World War II England (and Canada) and its sequels The Alien Corn and The Frozen River – post WW2 Canada. She has also published a collection of short stories – both historical and contemporary, A Fine Pair of Shoes and Other Stories.

Fluent in Italian, she loves spending time in Italy. In her spare time she likes to quilt, paint and travel as often and as widely as possible. She is an active member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelists Association, The Society of Authors, and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Get a free copy of Clare’s exclusive short story collection, A Fine Pair of Shoes, at www.clareflynn.co.uk

https://www.amazon.com/Clare-Flynn/e/B008O4T2LC/

Author Helena Halme

Helena Halme

Helena writes Nordic fiction with a hint of both Romance and Noir. Her latest series, Love on the Island, is set on the quirky and serenely beautiful Åland Islands filled with tourists in the summer and covered by snow and ice in winter.

Prize-winning author, former BBC journalist, bookseller, and magazine editor, Helena Halme holds an MSc in Marketing and an MA in Creative Writing. Full-time author and self-publishing coach, Helena also acts as Nordic Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors and has published twelve Nordic fiction titles and three nonfiction books.

Apart from writing stories, Helena is addicted to Nordic Noir and dances to Abba songs when nobody’s watching.

You can find more about Helena and her books on www.helenahalme.com, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/HelenaHalmeAuthor/), Twitter (@helenahalme) and Instagram (@helenahalme) 

https://www.amazon.com/Helena-Halme/e/B009C8N4W2/

My review:

 I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the authors for this opportunity.

I am known for my long reviews, but I’ll try to provide brief reviews for each one of the novels that compose the boxed set, which comes with my highest recommendation.

Blood Rose Angel, by Liza Perrat.

I read and reviewed this novel in full a while back, and you can read my original review, here.

For the sake of briefness, I include few paragraphs below:

This is the third novel in the series The Bone Angel. We are in Lucie-sur-Vionne, France, 1348. The whole series is set in the same location and follows the characters of the female line of a family who are linked by their midwifery skills (or wish to care for others) and by the passing of a talisman, the bone angel of the title. All the women of the series feel a strange connection to this angel (whose story/legend we hear, first- hand, in this book) and to each other, although this novel is, so far, the one set further back in the past, and at a very momentous time (like all the others). The Black Death decimated a large part of the world population and this novel offers us the perspective of the people who lived through it and survived to tell the tale.

 Midwife Héloïse is the main character, a strong woman, dedicated and caring, who has had a troubled and difficult childhood, and whose vocation gets her into plenty of difficulties.

The novel’s plot is fascinating and as good as any historical fiction I have read. History and fiction blend seamlessly to create a story that is gripping, emotionally satisfying, and informative. Even when we might guess some of the twists and turns, they are well-resolved, and the ending is satisfying. The life of the villagers is well observed, as is the relationship between the different classes, the politics of the era, the role of religion, the power held by nobles and the church, the hypocrisy, superstition, and prejudice, and the social mores and roles of the different genders. The descriptions of the houses, clothing, medical and midwifery procedures, and the everyday life are detailed enough to make us feel immersed in the era without slowing down the plot, that is a page turner in its own right. I particularly enjoyed the sense of community (strongly dominated by women) and the optimism that permeates the novel, showing the strength of the human spirit even in the hardest of circumstances. The author includes a glossary at the end that explains the words no longer in use that appear in the novel and also provides background information on the Black Death and the historical figures that grace its pages. Although it is evident that the book involved a great deal of research, this is flawlessly weaved into the story and adds to the feeling of authenticity.

Although part of a series, the novel can be read as a stand alone (although I recommend the rest as well).

Another great novel by Liza Perrat and one of my favourites. I will not forget it in a hurry and I hope to keep reading more novels by the author. I recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the era, the Black Death, and medical techniques of the time, readers of women’s fiction, and anybody looking for great characters and a writer to follow.

Hidden, by Linda Gillard

This is the first novel I read by Linda Gillard, and, to save you time, in case you’re in a hurry, I can tell you I’ve added her name to my list of authors to watch out for.

This historical novel is also a dual-time story, combining a contemporary chronological timeline (set in 2018) following Miranda Norton, a woman who inherits a beautiful building from a famous father she never knew, and decides to move in with her whole family (her mother, her adult pregnant daughter and son-in-law and her twin teenage sons) to make ends meet, and the story of a previous owner, Esme Howard, a painter whose family had lived in the house for generations, who after several losses during the Great War, makes a decision that will have drastic consequences for all involved. Her story takes place from 1917 until the very end of the war, and there are all kinds of links and connections between the two stories, and even a touch of the paranormal.

Myddleton Mote, the property that links both time periods and sets of characters, becomes a protagonist in its own right, and there is something of the Gothic romance in the story, with multitudes of secrets, forbidden love stories, people being kept prisoner, losses and bereavements, hidden rooms, mysterious findings, rumours and disappearances, heroes and villains, some unexplained events (a ghost, perhaps), and even a moat. These are not the only themes touched upon by the novel. Women in abusive relationships take a central role in both stories, but there is also plenty of information about life during WWI, shell shock and the experience of returning soldiers, the world of art, especially for female painters, and also the feelings of grief, guilt, and sacrifice. It is a grand melodrama, and there are moments that are very sad and emotional, although the novel also contains its light and happy moments.

The story is divided up in three parts: the first and the third one are told in the first person by Miranda, and the second one narrates the story of Esme in the third person, although the narration moves between the different characters, giving readers a chance to become better acquainted not only with what happens, but also with the feelings and state of mind of the main characters (Esme; Guy, her husband; and Dr Brodie; although we also get to follow some of the others, like wonderful Hanna, the maid who plays a fundamental part in the story). Part one and two also contain fragments of Esme’s narrative, in the first person, of her own story. That means that when we read part 2, we already have some inklings as to what has been going on, but we get the whole story ahead of Miranda, and everything fits into place.

I don’t want to go on and on, so I’ll just try and summarise. I loved the story. Some of the high points for me were: the relationships in Miranda’s extended family, and how well the different generations get on; the way the author handles the experience of domestic abuse/violence, including fascinating comparisons and parallels between the circumstances of two women separated by 100 years; the descriptions of London and the UK during WWI and the experiences of the people in the home front; shell-shock and how it affected soldiers during the war; I loved the descriptions of Esme’s creative process, her inspiration, and her paintings (which I could see in my mind’s eye), and also the true story of Baroque Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi (which I am fascinated by), a woman deserving of much more attention than she has been given so far. I also enjoyed the mystery side of things and trying to piece the details of the story together, although, for me, Esme’s story, the house, and Miranda’s family were the winners.

I have mentioned the abuse the female characters suffer, and although this is mostly mental, it should come with a warning, as it is horrifying at times. Some of the descriptions of the experiences during the war are harrowing as well, and there is also illness to contend with. Notwithstanding that, I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. Any readers who love historical fiction set in the early XX century, particularly during WWI, in the UK, who are keen on mysterious houses, a good love story, and prefer stories told (mostly) from a female perspective, should check this one. Oh, and the ending is… as close to perfect as anyone could wish.

The Chase, by Lorna Fergusson

As was the case with the previous novel, Fergusson is a new author to me, although she is well known, especially for her short stories, and, in fact, this novel had been published by Bloomsbury years ago. That goes some way to explain why, although the structure of the book seemed to alternate between chapters set in different historical periods (from prehistory until WWII), and those telling the chronological story of a couple of Brits expats who move to France (to the Dordogne, the Périgord) trying to leave their tragic past behind, the main story is set in 1989 and at times it gives one pause to think how different things are today from that near past (many of the events and some of the storylines would be completely changed by the simple introduction of a mobile phone or the internet).

This novel will delight readers who love detailed descriptions of places, local culture, and food and drink, especially those who know or are thinking of visiting la Dordogne. Fergusson has a beautiful turn of phrase and manages to seamlessly incorporate some buildings and locations fruit of her imagination into the real landscape of the region, so effectively that I am sure those who have visited will wonder if they have missed some of the attractions as they read the book. Le Sanglier, the house Gerald Feldwick falls in love with and buys, in particular, is a great creation, and as we see the house mostly from (Annette) Netty’s point of view, we get a very strong sense of claustrophobia, of hidden and dark secrets that can blow-up at any minute, and of a malignant force at work, undermining her efforts to settle and forget (although she does not really want to forget, only to remember with less pain).

The author also manages to create a totally plausible community in the area, consisting mostly of expats, but also of some local farmers and even an aristocrat, and their interactions and the complex relationship between them add depth to the novel. Although the newcomers, the Feldwick, might appear ill-suited to the area, and we don’t get to know their reasons for the move until the story is quite advanced, the network of relationships established since their arrival has a profound impact on their lives.

This is a novel where the historical aspect is less evident than in the previous two, and it might not appear evident at first, although, eventually, the historical fragments (narrated in the third-person —like the rest of the novel— from the point of view of a big variety of characters from the various eras) fall into place and readers discover what links them to the story. Secrets from the present and the past coalesce and the influence of the region and its past inhabitants on the present come full circle.

The psychological portrayal of the main characters is powerful as well. Although I didn’t particularly warm up to any of them (it’s impossible not to feel for Netty, whose tragic loss and unresolved bereavement make her easy to sympathise with, but her behaviour and prejudices didn’t do much to endear her to me, personally. Gerald is less likeable, especially as we see him, most of the time, from Netty’s perspective, but the fragments narrated from his point of view make him more understandable, if not truly nice or appealing; and we only get to see the rest of character’s from the main protagonists’ perspectives), the fact that they all had positive and negative aspects to their personalities, the way they behaved and reacted to each other and to their plight (sometimes in a selfish way, sometimes irrationally, sometimes totally blinded to the world around them, sometimes obsessed, overbearing, and/or abusive…), gave them humanity and made them more rounded. These were not superheroes or insightful and virtuous individuals, perfect in every way, and although by the end of the story they’ve suffered heartbreak, disappointments, and have been forced to confront their worst fears, this is not a story where, as if by magic, they are totally enlightened and all their problems have disappeared. The ending is left quite open, and although some aspects of the story are resolved (in a brilliant way, in my opinion), others are left to our imagination.

I want to avoid spoilers, but I wanted to include any warnings and extra comments. The main storyline is likely to upset readers, especially those who have suffered tragic family losses recently, and I know the death of very young characters is a particularly difficult topic for many. There are also some scenes of violence and death of animals (it is not called The Chase for nothing), battles and death of adults as well (in the historical chapters), and an off-the-page rape scene. There are other sex scenes, but these are not very explicit either. There are some elements that might fall into the paranormal category, although other interpretations are also possible. On the other hand, I have mentioned the interest the novel has for people who have visited the Dordogne or would like to visit in the future; readers who are interested in embroidery, mythology, and history of the region will also have a field day; its treatment of bereavement is interesting and compelling; and I think all those elements would make it ideal for book clubs, as there is plenty to discuss and think about.

A complex and beautifully written story that is likely to get everybody siding with one of the main characters, and a great option for those who love to travel without leaving their armchairs.

The Chalky Sea, by Clare Flynn

Clare Flynn is a favourite author of many readers, and although this was the first of her novels I’ve read and reviewed, I am not surprised, as she is a fine writer, who combines a strong sense of place and historical detail (WWII, especially the home front experience in the UK, particularly in Eastbourne, East Sussex, a seaside resort in the South of England that was heavily bombed during the war), with characters who undergo many trials and challenges, remain strongly anchored in the era, and whose innermost thoughts and motivations we get to understand (even when we might have very little in common with them or their opinions and feelings).

The two main protagonists, Gwen and Jim, are totally different: Gwen is an upper-middle-class British woman, well-educated, married, who enjoys volunteering and helping out, but whose life is far from fulfilled, as she never had children, her husband spends long periods of time away, and that gets even worse when the war starts. Jim is a young Canadian farmer, engaged to be married and happy with his lot when we meet him (although feeling somewhat guilty for not enlisting), whose life takes a sudden turn for the worse, and ends up enlisting and being sent to England. Although initially their stories only seem to have in common the fact that the action takes place during WWII, most readers will suspect that the characters are meant to meet at some point. I don’t want to spoil the reading experience for anybody, but let’s say both of them meet in Eastbourne in the latter part of the war, and they help each other understand their experiences, and be ready for life after the war. Gwen has experienced many losses from a very young age and has never been encouraged to express herself or talk about her feelings, afraid that her love could be a curse to anybody she met. Jim is presented as kind and patient (sometimes unbelievably so), but despite his good qualities he is betrayed and abandoned repeatedly and doesn’t trust his own feelings anymore. There are many secondary characters that add a touch of realism and variety to the novel (some good, some bad, some mean, some somewhere in-between), and I particularly enjoyed the details about the home front realities during WWII, the tasks women engaged in (Gwen gets to play a bigger part in the war effort than she expected), and the descriptions of Eastbourne, as I lived there for a while and the level of detail made the story feel much closer and realistic.

The story is narrated in the third person, from the points of view of the two main characters, and the author writes beautifully about places and emotions, without getting lost in overdrawn descriptions or sidetracked by titbits of real information. The novel touches on many subjects beyond WWII: there are several love stories, legally sanctioned and not; the nature of family relationships; morality and what was considered ‘proper’ behaviour and the changes those concepts underwent due to the war; women’s work opportunities, their roles, and how they broadened during the war; prejudice and social class; the Canadian contribution to the UK war effort; miscarriages/abortions and their effects on women; childless marriages; the loss of a sibling; was destruction and loss of human lives… Some of them are dealt with in more detail than others, but I am sure most readers will find plenty of food for thought in these pages.

Although this is the first novel in a series, I found the ending extremely fitting and satisfying (quite neat, but I’m not complaining)! And, of course, those who want to know more will be happy to hear that there are two more books to deep into as soon as they’ve finished reading this one.

A great option for lovers of historical fiction set during WWII in the UK, particularly those with a keen interest in the home front. A novel that reminded me of Brief Encounter, with some touches of Graham Greene as well. Also recommended to Flynn’s many fans.

Coffee and Vodka, by Helena Halme

Both the author and the setting of part of the story were completely new to me. Nordic crime novels have become quite popular, and I have read some, and also watched some series set in the area (mostly Sweden and Denmark), but had never come across any Finnish literature, so I was quite intrigued by the last novel in the boxset.

This is another story set in the recent past, but in contrast with many of the other texts in this volume, it is a pretty personal one. The story is told in the first person by Evva, and the timeline is split up into two. One half of the story takes place in 1974, when Evva is only a teenager and her family migrates from Finland to Sweden; and the other half takes place thirty years later, in 2004, when she is in her early forties and has to go back to Finland (not having been there even for a visit in the meantime) because her beloved grandmother is dying. The chapters in the two timelines alternate (although sometimes we might read several chapters from the same era without interruption), building up to create a clear picture of what life was like before, and how things have moved on. This is another one of those novels that I sometimes call an adult coming-of-age story, although in this case, we have both. We see Evva as a young child having to face a traumatic move, leaving her friends and her grandmother behind and having to start again in a new country, having to learn a new language, and having to face a degree of prejudice, although that is far from the worse of her experience, as things at home are not good either, and the situation keeps getting worse. And then, in 2004, Evva discovers that some of her beliefs and her version of events might not be accurate, and that much information about her family has been kept hidden from her. Everybody seems to have tried to protect her from the truth, although she realises she has also contributed to this by refusing to face up to things and continuing to behave like a naive teenager, both with her close family and in her personal life.

The author captures well the era and the teenager’s feelings and voice, and although I have never visited Finland or Sweden, I got a strong sense of how living there might be. She also manages to structure the novel in such a way that we get to know and understand Evva (young Evva is much easier to empathise with than older Evva, although I liked the way she develops and grows during the novel) whilst getting a strong suspicion that she is missing a lot of the facts, and the two timelines converge to provide us a reveal that is not surprising for this kind of stories, but it is well done and beautifully observed and written. I particularly appreciated the understated tone of the funeral and the conversations between the family members, and the fact that despite their emotions, they all behaved like the grown-ups they are.

There are harsh moments, and although those take place mostly off the page, readers who prefer to totally avoid the subject of domestic violence should be warned.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a well-written family drama, especially those interested in new settings and Nordic literature, those who love stories set in the 1970s, and anybody who enjoys dual timelines, coming-of-age stories, and beautifully observed characters.

 Thanks to Rosie and the authors for this wonderful collection, thanks to all of you for reading (especially today!), keep reading, reviewing, smiling, and above all, keep safe.

 

Categories
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!

 

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview THE MURDER THAT DEFEATED WHITECHAPEL’S SHERLOCK HOLMES: AT MRS RIDGLEY’S CORNER by Paul Stickler (@paul_stickler) (@penswordbooks) #Truecrime

Hi all:

I bring you another non-fiction book that brings to life what a real murder investigation was like in Britain in the early XX century.

The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel's Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler
The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler

The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler. A fascinating true police-procedural account from the early XXc

In 1919, when a shopkeeper and her dog were found dead in Hitchin, Hertfordshire with brutal head injuries, there followed an extraordinary catalogue of events and a local police investigation which concluded that both had died as a result of a tragic accident. A second investigation by Scotland Yard led to the arrest of an Irish war veteran, but the outcome was far from conclusive.

Written from the perspective of the main characters involved and drawing on original and newly-discovered material, this book exposes the frailties of county policing just after the First World War and how it led to fundamental changes in methods of murder investigations.

Offering a unique balance of story-telling and analysis, the book raises a number of unanswered questions. These are dealt with in the final chapter by the author’s commentary drawing upon his expertise.

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes/dp/1526733854/

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes-ebook/dp/B07FD46C55/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes-ebook/dp/B07FD46C55/

Author Paul Stickler
Author Paul Stickler

About the author:

Paul Stickler joined Hampshire Constabulary in 1978 and spent the majority of his time in CID. He spent many years involved in murder investigations and was seconded to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia to study international perspectives of crime investigation. Since his retirement in 2008 he has combined his professional knowledge with his passion for history, researching murders in the first half of the twentieth century. He spends his days delivering lectures to a wide range of audiences. More can be found out about him on his website: www.historicalmurders.com

Although the above is the official information included in the book, I could not resist but copy the profile from his website.

A retired detective, Paul Stickler has turned criminologist and crime historian and explores the detail behind some of the most fascinating cases in criminal history. His experience in murder investigations coupled with his passion for history make his presentations absorbing, challenging, entertaining and informative. He has recently published his first book about a bizarre murder investigation in Hertfordshire just after the First World War. He is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

Paul has featured in a number of television and radio programmes about his career and his research into early twentieth-century murders.

He studied history with the Open University obtaining a Bachelor’s degree (1997), graduated from the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia with a post-graduate diploma in Law Enforcement (1997) and read criminology at Solent University for his Master’s degree (2013) specialising in the research of historical crime. He is a Visiting Fellow of Solent University and his hobbies include gliding, high altitude walking and playing guitar (badly) and piano (even worse).

http://www.historicalmurders.com/profile/

Oh, and the website is fascinating, to people interested in true crime and also those authors or scholars researching the topic. I recommend it.

My review:

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

I was fascinated by this book and by the way it is told. The case itself cannot compare to some of the sophisticated cases we read about in mysteries and thrillers, complex and full of twist and turns. A shopkeeper, widowed, that lived with her dog, and sold a bit of everything, appeared murdered on a Monday morning, next to the body of her dog. There was blood everywhere, she’d evidently been hit on the head, possibly with a weight that was found close to the body, and there was money missing. People had been at her shop on Saturday evening and one of her neighbours had heard some strange noises in the early hours of Sunday, but that was it. This was 1919, and, of course, forensics were not as advanced as they are now, but there was an investigation of sorts, although, surprisingly, in the first instance the local police decided it had been an accident. When the new police chief revised the case, he was not so convinced, and called on Scotland Yard for assistance. They sent Detective Chief P. S. Wensley, who had been involved (although only marginally) in the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders and would become pretty well-known for the Houndsditch murders and the siege of Sidney Street. Unfortunately, two weeks had passed since the original crime he was sent to investigate, the body had been buried, and the evidence had not been well-looked after, but still… He and his team investigated and put together a case against an Irish immigrant who’d fought the war. And, well, the rest is history (and you’ll have to read it yourselves).

Despite, or perhaps because, of the somewhat ‘simple’ murder, the book is a fascinating read. The author —evidently familiar with current crime investigation techniques— explains his reasons for choosing to tell this story, to recover the case of a fairly anonymous woman, and to do it in this particular way, pointing out that he did not intend to set off on a ‘cold-case’ type of investigation.  In his own words:

That is the beautiful thing about history; trying to show exactly what happened using original material and putting it in a contemporary social setting so that the reader can better understand and make sense of it all. I hope that the narrative has not only thrown light on policing in the early part of the century but portrayed it as a piece of history and not as retrospective critique. (Stickler,  2018, p. 145)

In my opinion, he succeeds. Stickler’s method, which consists in looking over the shoulder of the people who were investigating the murder and those who participated in the court case, showing us what they would have seen, and guessing at what they might have thought, while at the same time providing us historical background, so we are able to understand how the police force worked, and what the atmosphere was like in the country shortly after WWI, works very well. As we read the book we can’t help but think about what we would have done, worry about their mistakes, and wonder about the missing details and the conflicting witness statements and evidence. We learn about the social make-up of the town, the relationships between the different communities, the way the police force worked at the time, and we gain a good understanding of the legal issues as well, without having to read long and dry historical treatises. The writer has done a great deal of research and his skill as a writer is evidenced in the way he seamlessly creates an involving narrative that never calls undue attention to it. For the sake of completion, the author includes a commentary at the end, where he provides a postscript, as it were, with information about what happened to the protagonists, and also with his own speculations (that he had kept to himself until then) as to why things happened as they did.

I recommend this book to people who are interested in true crime, especially in Britain, Criminology and Criminal Justice System students, readers who enjoy historical police procedural novels, and also writers of the genre interested in researching the topic (the bibliography and the author notes will be of great help, and there are also pictures from the time provide a fuller understanding of the story). And, as I said, I also recommend checking the author’s blog to anybody interested in the topic.

A great book and a fabulous resource.

Stickler, P. (2018). The murder that defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s corner. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword.

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

Categories
Blog Tour Book review Book reviews

#Blogtour #HouseofGlass HOUSE OF GLASS by Susan Fletcher (@sfletcherauthor) (@ViragoBooks) A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel about what it means to be whole

 

House of Glass by Susan Fletcher A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel about what it means to be whole

June 1914 and a young woman – Clara Waterfield – is summoned to a large stone house in Gloucestershire. Her task: to fill a greenhouse with exotic plants from Kew Gardens, to create a private paradise for the owner of Shadowbrook. Yet, on arrival, Clara hears rumours: something is wrong with this quiet, wisteria-covered house. Its gardens are filled with foxgloves, hydrangea, and roses; it has lily-ponds, a croquet lawn – and the marvellous new glasshouse awaits her. But the house itself feels unloved. Its rooms are shuttered, or empty. The owner is mostly absent; the housekeeper seems afraid. And soon, Clara understands her fear: for something – or someone – is walking through the house at night. In the height of summer, she finds herself drawn deeper into Shadowbrook’s dark interior – and into the secrets that violently haunt this house. Nothing is quite what it seems.

Reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier, this is a wonderful, atmospheric Gothic page-turner.

A deeply absorbing, unputdownable ghost story that’s also a love story; for readers who love Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger; Frances Hodges Burnett’s The Secret Garden; Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace; Jane Harris’s The Observations.

Author Susan Fletcher
Author Susan Fletcher

Susan Fletcher took her inspiration from the gardens and grounds of Hidcote House, spending time in their archives and library, at different times of the year. One of the country’s great gardens, Hidcote is an Arts and Crafts masterpiece in the north Cotswolds, a stone’s throw from Stratford-upon-Avon. Created by the horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston. The garden is divided into a series of ‘outdoor rooms’, each with its own character. The formality of the ‘rooms’ fades away as you move through the garden away from the house.

https://www.amazon.com/House-Glass-Susan-Fletcher-ebook/dp/B078WDM9SF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/House-Glass-Susan-Fletcher-ebook/dp/B078WDM9SF/

About the author:

Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 in Birmingham. She is the author of the bestselling ‘Eve Green’ winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, ‘Oystercatchers’ and ‘Witch Light’.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Susan-Fletcher/e/B001ITYXNW/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Virago Books for providing me an ARC copy of this book. I was later contacted by Kimberley Nyamhondera suggesting I take part in the blog tour for the launch of the book, and as I knew the author I immediately agreed.

I had read and reviewed another one of Susan Fletcher’s books (Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew, you can read my review here) a couple of years ago and loved it. When I checked my review, to remind myself what I had thought about it in more detail, I realised I could use almost word by word the same title for my review, although the subject of the novel is quite different. “A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel.” Yes, this definitely applies to House of Glass as well. This time the story is set in the UK right before the breaking of the First World War, and in fact, there are rumours spreading about its likelihood already when the novel starts. It is a fascinating time, and the life of the protagonist, Clara Waterfield, is deeply affected by the historical period she has to live in, from her birth in very late Victorian times, to what would be a very changed world after the Great War, with the social upheaval, the rapid spread of industrialization, the changing role of women, and the all-too-brief peace.

Clara, who tells the story in the first person, is a great creation, who becomes dearer and dearer to us as we read the book. This is not a novel about a protagonist who is fully-formed, recognisable and unchanging, and runs across the pages from one action scene to the next hardly pausing to take a breather. Clara reflects upon her past (although she is very young, she has suffered greatly, but not lived much), her condition (she suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle bones, and that meant that she was kept indoors and not exposed to the risks and dangers of the outside world, the London streets in her case throughout her childhood), her family, and life experiences or her lack of them. No matter what she looks like, her short stature, her difficulty walking, her limitations in physical activity, this is a determined woman, make no mistake. She has learned most of what she knows through books (non-fiction mostly, although she enjoyed the Indian tales her mother used to read her), she has experienced not only pain, but other kinds of loses, and there are secrets and mysteries surrounding her, but despite all that, she is all practical and logical when we meet her. Her lack of exposure to the real world makes her a fascinating narrator, one who looks at everything with the eyes of a new-born or an alien suddenly landed in our society, who might have theoretical knowledge but knows nothing of how things truly work, while her personality, determined and stubborn, and her enquiring nature make her perfect to probe into the mystery at the heart of Shadowbrook.

Readers might not find Clara particularly warm and engaging to begin with (despite the sympathy they might feel for her suffering, something she would hate), as she dispenses with the niceties of the period, is headstrong and can be seen as rude and unsympathetic. At some point, I wondered if there might have been more to her peculiar personality than the way she was brought up (she can be obsessive with the things she likes, as proven by her continuous visits to Kew Gardens once she discovers them, and her lack of understanding of social mores and her difficulty in reading people’s motivations and feelings seemed extreme), but she quickly adapts to the new environment, she thrives on change and challenges, she shows a great, if somewhat twisted, sense of humour at times, and she evolves and grows into her own self during the novel, so please, readers, stick with the book even if you don’t connect with her straightaway or find her weird and annoying at times.  It will be worth your while.

Her point of view might be peculiar, but Clara is a great observer of people and of the natural world. She loves her work and she is careful and meticulous, feeling an affinity for the exotic plants of the glass house, that, like her until recently, also have to live enclosed in an artificial environment for their own safety. That is partly what enhances their beauty and their rarity in our eyes. By contrast, Clara knows that she is seen as weird, lacking, less-able, and hates it. She is a deep thinker and reflects upon what she sees, other people’s behaviours, she imagines what others might be talking about, and dreams of her dead mother and soon also of the mystery behind the strange happenings at the house.

The novel has been described as gothic, and that is a very apt description, even though it is not always dark and claustrophobic. There are plenty of scenes that take place in the garden, in the fields, and in the open air, but we do have the required strange happenings, creaks and noises, scratches on doors, objects and flowers behaving in unpredictable fashion, previous owners of the house with a troublesome and tragic past, a mysterious current owner who hides something, violence, murder, and plenty of rumours. We have a priest who is conflicted by something, a loyal gardener who knows more than he says, a neighbouring farmer who has plenty of skeletons in his closet, and a housekeeper who can’t sleep and is terrified. But there is much more to the novel than the usual tropes we have come to expect and love in the genre. There is social commentary; there are issues of diversity and physical disability, discussions about religious belief and spirituality, and also about mental health, women’s rights, and the destructive nature of rumours and gossip, and some others that I won’t go into to avoid spoilers.

I don’t want to give anything away, and although the story moves at a steady and contemplative pace, this in no way makes it less gripping. If anything, the beauty of the language and the slow build up work in its favour, giving us a chance to get fully immersed in the mood and the atmosphere of the place.

I marked a lot of passages, and I don’t think any of them make it full justice, but I’ve decided to share some, nonetheless:

She’d also said that there was no human perfection; that if the flaw could not be seen physically, then the person carried it inside them, which made it far worse, and I’d believed this part, at least.

For my mother had never spoken well of the Church. Patrick had said nothing at all of it. And my own understanding had been that imperfect bodies were forms of godly punishment; that imperfect meant I was worth less somehow. I’d disliked this notion intensely. Also, I was not a spare rib.

I could not taste fruit from studying a sketch of it, cut in half. What use was only reading of acts and not doing them? Knowing the route of the Ganges was not the same as standing in it.

 

The ending… We find the solution to the mystery, (which I enjoyed, and at the time I wondered why the book did not finish at that point) but the novel does not end there, and we get to hear what happened in the aftermath of the story. And yes, although at first, I wasn’t sure that part was necessary, by the end of the book proper I was crying and felt as if I was leaving a close friend in Clara, one that I was convinced would go on to lead a happy life.

Another fantastic novel by Susan Fletcher, one I recommend to fans of gothic novels, of Daphne du  Maurier’s Rebecca and her other novels, of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, and of inspiringly gorgeous writing. I do not recommend it to readers who prefer an action-laden plot with little space for thought or reflexion, although why not check a sample of the book and see for yourselves? I must catch up on the rest of the author’s novels and I hope there will be many more to come.

Thanks to NetGalley, to Virago, and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, please give it a like, share, comment, clik, review, and remember to keep smiling and reading!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE GREAT WAR ILLUSTRATED 1918: Archive and Colour Photographs of WWI by William Langford & Jack Holroyd (@penswordpub) (@penswordbooks) #Bookreview #MilitaryHistory

Hi all:

I bring you today the review of a book by one of my favourite non-fiction publishers, Pen & Sword.

The Great War Illustrated 2018 by William Langford & Jack Holroyd
The Great War Illustrated 2018 by William Langford & Jack Holroyd

The Great War Illustrated 1918: Archive and Colour Photographs of WWI by William Langford & Jack Holroyd. A must have for scholars, researches, and WWI enthusiasts.

The final book in a series of five titles which graphically cover each year of the war. Countless thousands of pictures were taken by photographers on all sides during the First World War. These pictures appeared in the magazines, journals, and newspapers of the time. Some illustrations went on to become part of postwar archives and have appeared, and continue to appear, in present-day publications and TV documentary programs – many did not. The Great War Illustrated series, beginning with the year 1914, includes in its pages many rarely seen images with individual numbers allocated, and subsequently, they will be lodged with the Taylor Library Archive for use by editors and authors.

While some of the images in The Great War Illustrated 1918 will be familiar, many will be seen for the first time by a new generation interested in the months that changed the world for ever.

https://www.amazon.com/Great-War-Illustrated-1918-Photographs/dp/147388165X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-War-Illustrated-1918-Photographs/dp/147388165X/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Both military miniatures enthusiasts and history buffs should be fascinated by its 1,000 black-and-white photographs and section of color plates… This 517-page book’s imagery and the writers’ narrative combine to succeed in fostering understanding of the events pictured and the global scope of the epic conflict which climaxed 100 years ago.” (Toy Soldier & Model Figure)

About the Editor

Roni Wilkinson has worked in printing and publishing for fifty years. His published works include five fictional titles, a newspaper cartoon strip, and Dark Peak Aircraft Wrecks One and Two, the top-selling guides to aircraft crash sites in the Peak District National Park (co-authored with Ron Collier). He is best known as the respected series editor and designer of the ground-breaking Pen & Sword Battleground guidebooks, of which there are now over 120 titles. He was also instrumental in the creation and development of the popular Pals series. Now semi-retired, he is actively researching and writing historical works, fictional and non-fictional, as well as contributing articles to magazines and writing reviews. He lives in Barnsley with his wife Rosalie.

About the authors:

Jack Holroyd has had a lifelong interest in military history and has given valuable input into many Pen & Sword publications. He has authored two other works of non-fiction (SS Totenkopf France 1940 and American Expeditionary Force: France 1917–1918 ) and also one work of fiction (Lost Legend of the Thryberg Hawk), all of which are published by Pen & Sword. When Jack isn’t researching military topics he spends his time cooking, reading poetry and gardening.

William Langford has been employed in printing and publishing for fifty years. His works for Pen & Sword include: The Great War Illustrated 1914; Great Push – The Battle of the Somme 1916; Somme Intelligence and They Were There! 1914.

My review:

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

Despite my interest in the topic, and although I have read some books and watched some movies on WWI, I am not very knowledgeable about it, and I am more familiar with WWII, which feels (and is) much closer. I recently read and reviewed, another one of the books published by Pen & Sword, which explored a historical topic through pictures from the period, and I found it a great way of learning about the era by bringing it to life.

When I saw this book, the last in a collection of five volumes, one per each year of WWI, I was curious. Although I had seen pictures from WWI, they were mostly of soldiers, who had posed in uniform for their families, or political figures, and when I think about war photography, I think of WWII, the Spanish Civil War and later conflicts. This particular volume contains over a thousand photographs, including some in colour, maps, and drawings, of the various campaigns of 1918. The authors explain that some of the images are well-known (I was only familiar with some of the politicians, well-known figures, like T. E. Lawrence and Wilfred Owen, and some of the royals), but they had never been presented as a full collection or in an organised manner. The images are numbered and people interested can obtain copies from the image library in the Taylor Library Archive, and that makes this book a great reference for scholars and other people looking for visual documentation from the period.

The volume is divided into eight chapters: 1) Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids – Naval War, 2) The German Spring Offensives –The Kaiserschlacht, 3) Salonika, Mesopotamia, Palestine, 4) The Italian Front, 5) Battles of the Aisne and the Marne Rivers, 6) Americans at Cantigny, Château-Thierry, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, 7) Battle of Amiens – The Hindenburg Line – Advance to Victory, 8) Some Consequences of this Global War. Although the big protagonists of the book are the photographs, the text guides us through the campaigns, including also the original captions from newspapers, the citations for the medals they received, and some observations that help us understand the sequence and the consequences of the events.

Although I knew that in WWI there had been a lot of destruction (of lives, animals, and buildings) because of the use of weapons unknown until then, the impact of seeing pictures of towns and cities completely destroyed, of mustard gas attacks, tanks, planes, aerial pictures, dead soldiers and civilians, and famine is overwhelming. And the stories… From inspiring bravery to incredible cruelty (or perhaps it was just a strong sense of duty, but what would make a commander launch an attack two minutes before the armistice was due, resulting in thousands of dead men on both sides is beyond my comprehension).  As I read some of the captions of the pictures and the stories behind some of the photographs, I could imagine many books and movies inspired by such events and individuals (and I am sure there are quite a few, but not as many as there should be).

I marked pages containing stories I found particularly touching, inspiring, or almost incredible, too many to mention, but I have randomly chosen a few of them to share as a sample.

The caption to a picture of plenty of smiling men brandishing their knives in page 222 explains that they are Italian soldiers of the elite Arditi Corps ‘the Caimans of the Piave’. ‘They numbered around eighty and were trained to remain in the powerful currents of the Piave for hours. Carrying only a Sardinian knife –the resolza – and two hand grenades, they acted in a communication role between the west and east banks of the Piave.’

There is a picture on page 260 of a worker with the Y.M.C.A. serving drinks to American soldiers on in the front line, and it says that one centre at a railway site served more than 200000 cups of cocoa to soldiers each month.

The book also remembers civilians who died, like those working at the National Shell Filling Factory in Chilwell that was destroyed on the 1st of July 2018, with 134 civilians dead and 250 injured.

There are stories that are the stuff of movies, like that of The Lost Battalion, the 77th Infantry Division, cut off by the Germans for five days, who were eventually relieved, but had by then lost half of the men.

Or the one of Corporal Alvin C. York ‘–later sergeant – at the place where he systematically began picking off twenty of the enemy with rifle and pistol. As an elder in a Tennessee mountain church at the beginning of the war, he was a conscientious objector, but then changed his mind to become the most efficient of killers.’ (405) He took the machine gun nest, four officers, 128 men, and several guns.

There are amazing feats by men of all nations and horrific devastation as well. The last chapter serves as a reminder of the heavy price imposed on the losing side and the consequences derived from it. The peace would be sadly short-lived, as we all know, and some of the issues of sovereignty that seemed to have been solved then would resurface once more a few years later.

In sum, this is a book for people interested in WWI (the whole collection is) at a personal level, invaluable for researchers, as it provides a good reference to a large body of archival images, and it is packed with bite-sized information that will provide inspiration to many writers and scholars. Another great addition to Pen & Sword military catalogue and one that I thoroughly recommend.

Thanks so much to Pen & Sword and to the authors, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW, to always keep reading and smiling, and to NEVER FORGET. 

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Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog FRED’S FUNERAL by Sandy Day (@sandeetweets). A poignant and lovingly written ode to an unsung hero. Beautiful and heart-wrenching. #RBRT #WWI

Dear all:

Today I bring you a beautiful (if sad) book, that is a fictionalisation of the story of a young Canadian man who fought in WWI.

Fred's Funeral by Sandy Day
Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day

Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day

Fred Sadler has just died of old age. It’s 1986, seventy years after he marched off to WWI, and the ghost of Fred Sadler hovers near the ceiling of the nursing home. To Fred’s dismay, the arrangement of his funeral falls to his prudish sister-in-law, Viola. As she dominates the remembrance of Fred, he agonizes over his inability to set the record straight.

Was old Uncle Fred really suffering from shell shock? Why was he locked up most of his life in the Whitby Hospital for the Insane? Could his family not have done more for him?

Fred’s memories of his life as a child, his family’s hotel, the War, and the mental hospital, clash with Viola’s version of events as the family gathers on a rainy October night to pay their respects.

https://www.amazon.com/Freds-Funeral-Sandy-Day-ebook/dp/B0779Q7LR3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Freds-Funeral-Sandy-Day-ebook/dp/B0779Q7LR3/

About the author:

Sandy Day is the author of Fred’s Funeral and Poems from the Chatterbox. She graduated from Glendon College, York University, with a degree in English Literature sometime in the last century. Sandy spends her summers in Jackson’s Point, Ontario on the shore of Lake Simcoe. She winters nearby in Sutton by the Black River. Sandy is a trained facilitator for the Toronto Writers Collective’s creative writing workshops. She is a developmental editor and book coach.

https://www.amazon.com/Sandy-Day/e/B005CVGIIA/

My review:

I am writing this review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, check here if you are looking for reviews) and thank Rosie and the author for providing me a copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a short book, but it punches well above its weight. The book, written mostly from the point of view of Fred Sadler, a Canadian veteran of WWI who never quite recovered from the war and spent years in and out of mental institutions (such as they were at the time), takes its readers on a journey through Fred’s memories (he has just died, so I guess I should say his ghost’s memories, but, in many ways, Fred had been a ghost of his former self for many years already) and those of the relatives who attend his funeral. We have brief hints at times of what other characters are thinking or feeling (as Fred’s consciousness becomes all-encompassing), but mostly we remain with Fred. We share in his opinions and his own remembrances of the facts his family members (mostly his sister-in-law, Viola, who is the only one left with first-hand-knowledge of his circumstances, at least some of them) are discussing.

Fred’s story — based on the life of a relative of the author and on documents and letters he left behind— will be familiar to readers interested in the history of the period, and in the terrible consequences the war had on the lives and mental health of many of the young men who fought and suffered in the war. Shell-shock (now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD) was little understood at the time and psychiatry (that is not a hard science at its best) was pretty limited in its resources at the time. Even nowadays, delayed onset PTSD is rarely diagnosed and not well-understood, and the condition results sometimes in permanent changes in the personality of the sufferer, who might end up with all kinds of other diagnoses and are often misunderstood and mistreated.

Sandy Day’s beautifully descriptive and, at times, lyrical writing —the author had previously published a poetry book— captures both strands of the story: the terrible disintegration of the life of such a promising young man, and the changes in his family and the society around him, which he was only a spectator of (and was never allowed to take an active role in). His brother married and had children, his parents died; the family property, so dear to him, was split up and eventually sold, and he was only the weird uncle nobody knew much about.

The novel (as it is a fictionalization of the events) succeeds in giving Fred a voice, in bringing forth the fear, the thrashed hopes, the puzzlement, the resignation, the confusion, of this man who put his life on the line and got only pain in return. It is a poignant and beautiful memorial to the lives of many soldiers whose trauma was misunderstood and whose lives were destroyed. The writing is compelling and gets the readers inside of Fred’s head, making us share in his horrifying experiences. The book can be hard to read at times, not so much because of graphic content (although the few descriptions are vivid), but because it is impossible not to empathise and imagine what he must have gone through. But there is also a hopeful note in the interest of the new generations and the fact of the book itself.

There are time-shifts, and some changes in point of view (because Fred’s ghost can at times become the equivalent of an omniscient narrator), but past events follow a chronological order and are clearly demarcated and easy to follow, and the device of the funeral helps anchor the story and provide a frame and a background that give it a more personal and intimate dimension. The Canadian landscape and setting also add a touch of realism and singularity to the story.

Although the book is very short, I could not resist sharing at least a tiny sample of the beautiful writing with you:

He looks down half-blindly as his old Canadian Expeditionary Force Uniform dissolves into a constellation of colourful snowflakes, twirling away from him in a trail. Beneath the uniform he is nothing. He has no name or age. He is at once as old as a flickering blue base at the wick of a candle and as young as a flame surging into brilliance.

This is a poignant and lovingly written ode to a man who returned from WWI (at least in body) but was as lost as many of the men who never came back. A story about an unsung hero that should be cherished and its lessons learnt. I cannot recommend it enough.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie for coordinating such a great group of reviewers, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW.

[amazon_link asins=’B01K964GTK,0762754427,1937801853,0801478405,0553382403,1944430571,0773531882,1550051466′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’56249b1a-fb7e-11e7-a704-7d01cc700654′]

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview WOMEN IN THE GREAT WAR (@penswordbooks) by Stephen Wynn (@Winnie2013) and Tanya Wynn. Heroines that must be remembered #WWI #history

Hi all:

As you know, I discovered Pen & Sword Books a while back and I’ve been exploring their catalogue. Today I bring you a book that I think will pique the interest of many.

Women in the Great War by Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn
Women in the Great War by Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn

Women in the Great War by Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn

The First World War was fought on two fronts. In a military sense it was fought on the battlefields throughout Europe, the Gallipoli peninsular and other such theaters of war, but on the Home Front it was the arduous efforts of women that kept the country running.

Before the war women in the workplace were employed in such jobs as domestic service, clerical work, shop assistants, teachers or as barmaids. These jobs were nearly all undertaken by single women, as once they were married their job swiftly became that a of a wife, mother and home maker. The outbreak of the war changed all of that. Suddenly, women were catapulted into a whole new sphere of work that had previously been the sole domain of men. Women began to work in munitions factories, as nurses in military hospitals, bus drivers, mechanics, taxi drivers, as well as running homes and looking after children, all whilst worrying about their men folk who were away fighting a war in some foreign clime, not knowing if they were ever going to see them again.

With the work came a wage, which provided women with financial freedom for the first time, as well as an element of independence and social integration, which they would have possibly never otherwise experienced. Women were not paid the same wages as men for doing the same work, but what they did earn was much more than they had ever earned before.

This was also a time of the suffrage movement, who wanted more out of life for women. Accordingly, some of these women were reluctant to stop working, with some of these being sacked so that returning soldiers could have their prewar jobs back. Whilst, tens of thousands of women were left widowed, many with young children to bring up. Despite all of this, one thing was for sure, for lots of women there was no going back to how things had been before the war. There was only going to be one way, and that was forward.

https://www.amazon.com/Women-Great-War-Stephen-Wynn-ebook/dp/B071VRTK81/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Women-Great-War-Stephen-Wynn-ebook/dp/B071VRTK81/

Here you can find it in the Pen & Sword catalogue:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Women-in-the-Great-War-Paperback/p/13490

About the authors:

Stephen Wynn is a retired Police officer who served with Essex Police for thirty years. His first book, Two Sons in a War Zone: Afghanistan: The True Story of a Fathers Conflict, was published in 2010. It is his personal account of his sons’ first tours in Afghanistan. Both of his grandparents served in and survived the First World War. Stephen and Tanya Wynn are a husband and wife team who are collaborating for the first time with this title. They have been married for twelve years and outside of writing enjoy the simplicities of life. They spend most mornings walking their four German Shepherd dogs at a time when most normal people are still sound asleep. Tanya has always taken a keen interest in the previous titles Stephen has written, so much so that the title for this book was her idea.

You can find his other books here:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Stephen-Wynn/a/2452

My review:

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

I’m not sure why but as I read this book I realised I had read much more about World War II than about the Great War, and having a degree in American Studies, I had read a fair bit about American women’s war efforts (during WWII) but knew very little about what women had done during WWI, other than through some war novels where they would appear as nurses, but little else. That was one of the reasons why I was interested in this book from the Pen & Sword’s catalogue. At a time when women didn’t have the vote but were fighting for it, the war and the changes it brought had an enormous impact on the lives of British women (and women in general).

The book is divided into a number of chapters that after setting up the scene (Chapter 1. Women in General), discuss the different organisations and roles women took up during the war. We have chapters dedicated to women who became munition workers (yes, it was not only Rosie the Riveter who took up that task, and it’s amazing to think that women whose roles were so restricted at the time took to heavy factory work with such enthusiasm, despite the risks involved, although there was fun to be had too, like the women’s football teams organised at some of the factories), the Voluntary Air Detachments (Agatha Christie was employed by the VAD as a nurse and dispenser, and it seems her knowledge of medications and substances was to prove very handy in her writing career), The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, to reflect Queen Mary’s patronage), Women’s Legion and Other Women’s Organisations (including some like the Women’s Land Army, Women Police Volunteer, The Women’s Forage Corps [that required a great deal of physical strength]).

The chapter entitled Individual Women of the Great War includes fascinating stories, most of them worthy of a whole book, like those of Dorothy Lawrence, who dressed as a man and became a soldier although never actually fought, several spies, among them one of the best known and remembered Edith Louisa Cavell, a nurse, and perhaps my favourite, Flora Sanders, who was born in Yorkshire and actually fought in the war and became a Captain in the Serbian Army (and yes, in this case they knew she was a woman but did not seem to mind very much). Another favourite of mine has to be Violet Constance Jessop ‘the unsinkable’ who worked as a stewardess in a number of liners and survived the thinking of three big ships, including the Titanic’s. That never put her off and she worked at sea her whole career and died of old age.

There is a chapter dedicated to those who lost their lives during the war (and were not included in one of the previous chapters). The authors have checked a number of archives and list as many details as are available for these 241 women. For some, there’s only a name, date, and age (and where they were serving), for others there is more information. Reading through the list, that I am sure will be of great help to researchers looking for information on the subject, I was surprised by how many nurses died of what now would be considered pretty trivial illnesses (influenza, many of pneumonia, some of the nurses in far away locations died of dysentery, some of undiagnosed illnesses, or appendicitis) making evident not only how much medical science has advanced but also the precarious and exhausting conditions under which they worked, putting their duty before their own health. Quite a number went down with ships that had either been bombed or had hit mines, and some were unfortunate enough to be killed during raids when they were back home on a permit. In some cases, families lost several members to the war and one can only imagine the effects that must have had on their surviving relatives.

The last chapter mentions Queen Mary and Princess Mary’s war efforts, which had a great impact on monetary donations and on enlistment of both men and women. The conclusion reminds us that women had a great role to play during the Great War, both at home and indeed close to the action.

The book is well researched and combines specific data with personal stories, making it of interest to both researchers and readers who want to know more about that historical period, in particular about women’s history. Some chapters, like the one dedicated to individual women, are a good starting point to encourage further reading and engage the curiosity of those not so familiar with the topic.

A fitting homage to those women, who, as the authors write in the conclusion, should also be honoured on Remembrance Day.

Thanks to Pen & Sword for sharing with me their fabulous catalogue, thanks to the authors for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and if you read any books, REVIEW (don’t worry, the review does not have to be as long as mine. I just don’t know when to shut up!)

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