Intricate, believable and gripping

Paul O’Connor is a relatively new convert to the ranks of fans  who read thrillers involving crime and politics, and he can be a tough reader to impress. This novel impressed him.

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

TWO NIGHTS IN LISBON. By Chris Pavone. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Hardcover. 433 pages. $28.

John Wright hadn’t mentioned leaving so early this morning. He hadn’t left a note. He is here for business, but his meetings are later in the day. She knows that.

 She asks hotel staff about him, visits the police and the American embassy. Hotel staff say they haven’t seen him; the police and embassy staff suffer through her frenzy and say it is too early to be concerned. He’s probably out for a run.

In his cover blurb, fellow author John Grisham says he defies anyone to begin reading this book and put it down within the first 20 pages.

 I put it down at page 16. To this point, it was totally unoriginal. Too many books, movies and TV shows are based on someone reporting a missing person and being told, “Come back in 24 hours if he or she hasn’t come home.”

 But when the library waiting list is as long as it is for this book, I figured somehow it would get better. It did, in a big way

 An intricate crime and politics thriller follows those first few pages, with clues scattered liberally throughout.

 The police ask questions. The embassy staff ask questions. Ariel is increasingly frustrated because she just wants her husband back. For God’s sake, they’ve only been married three months, have only known each other a year, but how is that relevant to the Lisbon police, who speak English well but often in phrases amusingly translated directly from Portuguese.

 What is Ariel’s history? How about John’s? Why, exactly are they here in Lisbon? Why did she accompany her husband on a business trip, and why doesn’t she know the name of the company with which he is working? Why is his sister in Morocco?

 She can answer some questions, is stumped by others, admits to being a ditz about a few and expresses total surprise that the detectives and embassy staff know things about John that she didn’t.

 Ariel also can’t understand the embassy staff’s suspicions of her, their lack of concern for her husband.

All the pieces fit together. The answers will eventually lead us to the last chapter. But we must remember Chekov’s maxim: If there’s a shotgun hanging over the fireplace, someone had better use it somewhere along the line – or something like that. In this case, there are plenty of clues above the fireplace, so to speak.

As a relatively new fan of such books, I’ve been amazed at how the authors envision and pull together such complex stories, their twists and turns, and still keep us believing it’s all plausible. My curse is that I give up on a story as soon as I see where it becomes implausible, where I don’t buy the characters or I can’t believe that the Mission Impossible guy can, with only his fingertips, hold onto a train going 200 kph.

 With Two Nights in Lisbon, the characters are fictionally believable, and each little detail in the unfolding scenario seems plausible because it is based on other plausible little details. And, in the end, while it’s not totally original, it’s at least an original remake of a storyline we’ve seen before.

  Chris Pavone held the interest of Grisham, Stephen King and Lisa Scottoline. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to learn he held mine, too. This is a fun read.

Posted in Mysteries, Popular fiction, Thriller/Suspense | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mystery, history and the lives of women

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

ASHTON HALL. By Lauren Belfer. Penguin Random House Audio. Read by Jayne Entwhistle and Kristen Sieh. 12 hours, 38 minutes. Also available in hardback from Ballantine Books.

Don’t start listening to (or reading) this book unless you have some time to spare. Once you start, you won’t want to stop.

Hannah Larson is an art historian who has put her career on hold because her young son, Nicky, needs lots of attention and special care. Although not diagnosed with a specific disorder, he is highly impulsive and often has violent outbursts that can get physical. Hannah has had to take on the role of full-time mother while her husband, Kevin, pursues his career and earns the money that pays for their Manhattan lifestyle.

As Lauren Belfer’s latest novel opens, Hannah, with Nicky at her side, is heading to England to spend the summer with her beloved uncle, who rents an apartment at Ashton Hall, an ancient mansion in Cambridgeshire.

Hannah is trying to deal with the recent shock of discovering that Kevin is having a long-term affair, one that he’s not willing to give up. She welcomes the chance to spend months away from him, hoping she can think things through.

Soon after they arrive, Hannah’s uncle, who has serious medical problems, leaves with his caregiver for a new treatment possibility in the U.S. Hannah and Nicky are on their own, making new friends and exploring the historic house and grounds.

Nicky takes exploring to a new level, venturing on his own to an abandoned wing of the house, where he stumbles upon – and into – a walled-up room. In the room is a corpse.

Archaeologists set to work to identify the corpse and figure out why it is there. Before long, the body is determined to be Isabella Cresham, a member of the family that lived in the house during the Elizabethan era. Some of the artifacts found suggest that Isabella was a practicing Catholic during a time when they were persecuted.

Hannah gets increasingly drawn in to the mysteries surrounding Isabella and her life and death. She helps with research, examining ledgers and sketchbooks to discover details about life at the manor, including Isabella’s role.

Belfer obviously has done her research well, and the novel is a delight for Anglophiles and people interested in history and archaeological research. She does a wonderful job of working these details in while keeping the narrative going. She manages to tell Hannah’s present-day story as well as Isabella’s 16th century one, and readers see that Hannah is fascinated partly because she begins to feel a bond with that imprisoned woman. Hannah, afraid that she must stay in her marriage to protect her son, thinks about the difficult choices that even modern women must make as they balance personal independence with family demands.

Belfer deals with all these issues with a deft touch, letting her well-told story stand on its own, never becoming preachy or heavy-handed. The book is a historical mystery, a contemporary tale and a reflection on the lives of women – a rich, rewarding story.

Jayne Entwhistle and Kristen Sieh do a marvelous job with the audio version.


Posted in Audio Books, Contemporary literary fiction, Historical Fiction, Mysteries, Uncategorized, Women's fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s going on???

Do you want to read a mystery that will really keep you guessing? Paul O’Connor found one that came from Sweden.

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

GEIGER. By Gustaf Skordeman. Translated from Swedish by Ian Giles. Grand Central Publishing. 424 pages. $28, hardback.

It’s been a pleasant afternoon for Stellan Boman, the long-retired but still beloved, Swedish TV star. His two daughters and his grandchildren have been visiting his home outside Stockholm.

As the visitors are leaving, a landline rings, and Agneta Boman answers. She hears one word, responds affirmatively, and heads upstairs, where she withdraws a Makarov pistol from her bedside drawer. Once downstairs, she walks into the living room and fires a single shot into the back of her husband’s head.

From there Gustaf Skoredeman’s thriller, Geiger, becomes a ravenous consumer of your reading time. As we search for a reason that Agneta has murdered her husband, we are faced less with twists and turns and more with a series of ever-complicating developments. And, while we might want to scream, “What the hell is going on?” Skordeman has written a mystery that is understandable on every page, even if every page reveals only a small piece of what will eventually answer the above question on about page 423.

Sara Nowak is a vice squad detective who would not normally have been called into the murder investigation. But she grew up with the Boman daughters; her mother was the family’s maid for more than a dozen years. And the lead detective is Anna, one of Sara’s best friends. Sara can’t be part of the official investigation team, but Anna needs her help.

This being a detective’s story, Sara must, of course, be a problem employee, not as bad as Harry Bosch, but … She has an anger issue with the johns she arrests and a willingness to operate outside the rules on occasion. But operating outside standard procedure is what makes fictional detectives so effective, and that is how Sara takes the investigation into dark areas far afield of an act of domestic violence that the official team finds far-fetched.

There are dark areas of Sara’s personal life, also, and that is the parallel plot of this story. One daughter is rebelling as she graduates from what we call high school, the younger son is watching internet porn, and her husband is getting obscene photo texts from a lady of the night. After a career on the vice squad, Sara’s “Me-Too” emotions are explosive and her family’s affiliation with anything degrading of women infuriates her, sometimes leading to unreasonable reactions.

Being back in the company of the Boman daughters is equally troubling to Sara. Long-repressed childhood insecurities and aggravations return as the sisters treat her as they did during childhood – as a lesser person, the daughter of the maid.

As we encounter revelation after revelation, as the reason for the murder begins to take shape, Sara sinks lower, and the story becomes more frightening and heads into surprising places.

Posted in Detective fiction, Mysteries | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Still going strong

Looking for a good detective story? Bob Moyer has a suggestion.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer


Robert B. Parker’s BYE BYE BABY. By Ace Atkins. Penguin. 315 pages, $28 hardcover.


Fifty books. Robert B. Parker’s one-name Boston private detective, Spenser, has quipped, cracked wise, and quoted Shakespeare through that many books, while dispensing his brand of justice with a gun and/or his fists. Of course, Parker did not write all of those books. When he died, his estate farmed out the franchise to Ace Atkins, not a minor talent in his own right. He has ably engineered Spenser through subsequent adventures, keeping him contemporary while maintaining all the quirks that made the franchise so successful, and all his fans so — well, fanatic.


In his latest adventure, Spenser takes on the protection of an Ocasio-Cortez type congresswoman from Boston. She’s the recipient of numerous death threats, and it’s Spenser’s task to not only protect her but also parse out who the source is. He has a plethora of suspects — the corrupt congressman she unseated, a gang of thugs Spenser knows, and a white supremacy group run by a charismatic figure who lives with his mother. Many car chases, righteous beatings, violent deaths and near misses later, Spenser figures it out.


He does it with details that Atkins seems to channel directly from Parker. The book is replete with Spenser’s famous wisecracks for both crooks and cops, Shakespeare quotes dropped at the most unexpected times, and, of course, banter with his “bro”-in-crime, Hawk. A puppy continues the string of Pearl the dogs, and Spenser gets to trade innuendoes with Susan, his main squeeze still after all these adventures. Atkins even brings back Sixkill, the acolyte Native American Spenser mentored into the private eye trade when Parker introduced him. In other words, the Parker estate gets some quality bang for their buck. So does the reader.

Posted in Detective fiction, Mysteries, Thriller/Suspense | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The hunters and the hunted

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

THE LEFT-HANDED TWIN. By Thomas Perry. Mysterious Press. 321 pages. $25.95

She survives. Again. No spoiler alert needed here; Jane Whitefield has withstood every danger Thomas Perry has thrown at her in this successful series. She’s a “loser,” someone who helps people in peril of death disappear.

She has lost only one client in all her years, and that man is her messenger from the spirit world she has access to thanks to her Indian heritage.

And she needs as much help as she can get in her latest task. A young blonde shows up at Jane’s door, hunted by her former boyfriend. He made her watch him kill a man she had an affair with. She testified against him, the jury acquitted him, and now he’s hunting her down.

Jane doesn’t have any trouble avoiding him; Perry’s books are an instructional lesson in how to disappear in American society. However, a Russian gangster pitches in to help the boyfriend, and before long Jane is in trouble. The hood figures out who she is, and decides since she knows where so many people are hidden, she’s worth a lot of money — Jane becomes the target.

That’s when the fun begins. Jane heads for Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness to lose the hood’s men. He sends a tough crew of trained hunters after her, only to have her turn the hunters into the hunted. Perry is at his best in sections like this, helping Jane take out a superior force with superior wiliness.

Unfortunately, the gangster’s resources lead him to Jane, precipitating a page-turning finale. Jane’s survival may be a foregone conclusion, but the book’s finale is a complete surprise. Perry never fails to intrigue and entertain as well.

Posted in Mysteries, Popular fiction, Thriller/Suspense | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Out of control

Need a vacation novel, one that’s fun and easy to read? Paul O’Connor has a suggestion.

 Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

 CITY ON FIRE. By Don Winslow. William Morrow. 351 pages. $28.99, hardcover.

Danny Ryan knows trouble when he sees it.

 So, when a beautiful woman emerges from the water along the Rhode Island shore, he knows no good will come of it. There with his wife and two other couples for their group’s annual two-week August vacation, even Ryan can’t foresee how much trouble Pam, the real estate agent who has recently arrived from Connecticut, will start.


City on Fire is the first book in Don Winslow’s latest trilogy. Set in Providence, R.I., it is the story of two mob families, one Irish, one Italian, co-existing under a more than 20-year-old peace. The Irish get the docks, the longshoreman’s union, a few neighborhoods. The Italians, a much bigger family, get other neighborhoods and other criminal enterprises. At the end of the summer, the two families gather at the shore for a feast.


And into that feast blunders Pam, a product of affluent Greenwich, top-notch schools and an economic class with social mores at odds with those of the families with whom she is mixing.


Pam doesn’t set out to create trouble. To the contrary, she makes a protest that she is entirely justified in making, even in the 1986 setting of the party. She had failed to see, however, the ramifications of her complaint. She doesn’t seem to understand that some things are best left unsaid in front of mobsters.


One thing leads to another and, pretty soon, Providence is on fire, a full-fledged mob war in a city with considerable mob credentials. Along with the mob war, there are intra-family and inter-racial story lines. There’s some sex talk, both straight and gay.


Winslow is known as one of America’s best crime novelists, and his trilogy on the Mexican drug cartels was terrific. His writing is clear and fast-moving. He tells a great story, and he does his research. He is also known for Don Winslow Films, which produces numerous social media videos decrying the current autocratic drift of our nation. His latest, on gun violence, are chilling.


Anyone who has read mob books before, or seen mob movies, is unlikely to learn anything new here about mob culture: aspects of loyalty, revenge, secrecy, etiquette and even respect. So, reading City on Fire really is just a chance to escape and enjoy a good read.

The central take, however, is that bad things can spiral out of control: A drunk, a beautiful woman, an indiscretion, an overreaction, and then escalation and more escalation. Behind all of it, the sides see opportunity, and there’s nothing like opportunity to draw in outside forces.

 City on Fire isn’t The Godfather, nor is it Wiseguy, the source for the movie Goodfellas. But it is an easy and engaging read. And for those who haven’t read Winslow’s work before, my warning is that his books are hard to put down. 



Posted in Popular fiction, Thriller/Suspense | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

On the brink, as seen by one who’s been there

Wondering why there’s a war in Ukraine? This book might shed some light – on that, and on what else might be over “the edge.”

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

LESSONS FROM THE EDGE: A MEMOIR. By Marie Jovanovitch. Harper Audio. 17 hours, 11 minutes. $37. Also available in hardback. Mariner Books. 416 pages. $30.

Bear with me if you’ve seen this movie.

A dedicated civil servant is fighting for truth, justice and the American way when the narrative flips. The bad guys frame our hero, fabricating evidence that he or she is the criminal or traitor.  Jimmy Stewart would be the perfect lead.

Unfortunately, this is not a trite piece of fiction. It’s the true-life story of Marie Jovanovitch, a self-described live-by-the-rules introverted career foreign service officer who got in the way of Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and a corrupt crowd of Ukrainians.

 Jovanovich emerged into public view in mid-2019 from the obscurity of her U.S. foreign service career. She’d spent most of her professional life working in American embassies in Russia and the capitals of former Soviet republics. Her focus was fighting corruption by holding the governments of Ukraine, Kyrgystan and Armenia to the reform promises they’d made to secure American and Western aid.

In short, Jovanovich was a pain in the ass to kleptocrats who sought to siphon off sizeable portions of the aid packages and their country’s wealth for their own benefit. From the summer of 2016 until late spring of 2019, as U.S. ambassador, she was doing that very thing in Ukraine, sometimes with the help of elected reformers there and sometimes with the resistance of holdovers. But she faced constant resistance from former officials of a pro-Russia government who were plotting both to get back into power and to tilt Ukraine’s allegiances to Moscow.

Giuliani had an idea. Create a narrative that former Vice President Joe Biden was involved in the Ukrainian corruption and get the Ukrainian government to open an investigation. Trump loved the idea, but Jovanovich was a problem. She stood in the way. Her reform efforts were aimed at the very people the two Americans needed to create this lie. Thus, they fabricated stories alleging she was also corrupt and got them into American far-right media such as The Hill newspaper and Fox News.

To those who followed the congressional hearings leading to Trump’s first impeachment, Jovanovich should be recognizable. She testified twice, once in private, later in public. In time, she was cleared.

The impeachment testimony and the Ukraine ordeal are only the ending for Jovanovich, and the story she tells of her earlier life and career are fascinating. She was born in Montreal in 1958, the daughter of two stateless Russian emigres. They had fled the Soviet Union after their parents had sided with the white forces in the Civil War of the early 1920s.

The parents met in Montreal, married, had children and then moved to Kent, Conn., where Marie’s father taught at a prestigious prep school. She attended Princeton, worked in the advertising world and eventually entered the foreign service.

The first half of her memoir focuses on her personal development and the institutional sexism she faced both at Princeton and in the foreign service. It is also an entertaining primer on life working for the State Department.

The second half of the book focuses on her assignments, and at times I felt as if I were reading a historical novel, one of those books where the author contrives a character who serendipitously arrives in a place just as a major event occurs. For example, see Pug Henry in Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War.

 Jovanovich’s presence in these former Soviet republics provides a succinct review of Vladimir Putin’s prolonged efforts to subvert reform and pro-Western movements in these republics, to spread disinformation and to reel these countries back into Russia’s sphere of influence.

 For those of us who were not paying attention, I’ll only say that we missed a lot, and much of what we missed is germane to the current war in Ukraine.

  She concludes with a warning, that the U.S. teetered on the brink of becoming the kind of corrupt state she worked hard to help reform, and that that danger remains.

  This is an entertaining and enlightening story, well written and, in the audio version, well read by the author.

Posted in Contemporary Nonfiction, memoir, Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dark, eerie – and beautiful

Paul O’Connor may have grown up in Connecticut, gone to college in Indiana and spent many productive decades in North Carolina, but there’s a lot of Ireland in him. He’s discovered a book by an Irish author that’s not exactly new – published in 2017 – and not usually what would be Paul’s cup of whiskey. But he’s entranced, and he tells us why.

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

THE DEAD HOUSE. By Billy O’Callaghan. Arcade. 216 pages. $16.99.

The southwestern-most corner of Ireland is the eeriest place I’ve ever been.

When I first visited the area in 1973, the craggy topography and unusual vegetation, intensified by the howling winds, driving rains and threatening black clouds raging off the Atlantic, explained to me how the Irish can believe in the supernatural. As I drove down a deserted single-lane road lined with vegetation pressing both sides of my car, I expected the Banshee, a leprechaun or some other mystical fairy to attack.

Billy O’Callaghan sets his ghost story, The Dead House, in West Cork, just across a narrow bay from the Iveragh Peninsula from which my ancestors emigrated in the late 18th century. In this 2017 Irish Book Award winner, he writes that the landscape has a “rare light and aura of ancient magic.”

Michael Simmons, retired for health reasons from a career as an artists’ agent, narrates the story of Maggie Turner, an artist he represents. He discovered her while she was a student and helped her become successful in British art circles. A true friendship developed and, after her boyfriend seriously beat her, Michael provided a safe place to recover.

Already psychologically fragile, Maggie senses she must get away. She leaves England, eventually finding an abandoned cottage in the most isolated corner of West Cork, an area of landscapes and light perfect for her style of painting. But it is also a place that Michael and other friends fear will be too isolated for Maggie. They fear that the solation will unsettle her more than even city life. At least in London or Dublin she would have the support of friends.

Six weeks later, the cottage renovated to livable standards, Maggie hosts Michael and two female friends – one, Alison, is Michael’s future wife – for a weekend housewarming. Amid the hiking, eating and whiskey drinking, a Ouija Board is produced and a supernatural string of events unfolds.

It’s been said that the Irish speak English as beautifully as the French speak their language. And in O’Callaghan’s writing, those lovely Irish conversations make beautiful dialogue. His descriptions left me reaching for the yellow under-liner numerous times, uselessly, of course, because these were library books.

I did think, however, to bookmark his fine description of the mood after the Ouija Board experience:

There was something blocked about that whiskey-fueled aftermath. What had occurred lay around us like the taint of pepper in the air, a slow poison that once tasted cannot be easily forgotten.

I don’t read ghost stories. Have never read a Stephen King novel. Almost didn’t read this one, except that I’d just discovered O’Callaghan; only The Dead House and his spectacular The Boatman and Other Stories were in the local library. Some authors are worth reading just for their sentences, even if their story is not your type. O’Callaghan is that kind of author.

As a ghost story, others will have to judge The Dead House. I see it more as an insight into that dark, eerie side of Ireland that often gets overshadowed by the merrymaking and Guinness. The book’s cover notes say it is a “dread-inducing psychological thriller.” I’ll just comment that the story creeped me out, which is what ghost stories are supposed to do, right?

Telling his story a decade after the climactic events, narrator Michael and his wife were still dealing with it, and at two points in the novel, Michael paraphrases William Faulkner’s famous line that “the past is never dead; it’s not even past,” applying it to Irish history rather than American.

Maggie was unable to escape the past and, as the novel ends, Michael and Alison are finding that they can’t either.

Posted in Contemporary literary fiction, Ghost Story, Thriller/Suspense | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

All this and COVID too

Bob Moyer reviews a Michael Connelly detective thriller that came out late last year. If you missed it in the holiday/pandemic craziness, you’ll thank him.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

THE DARK HOURS. By Michael Connelly. Little, Brown. 388 pages. $29.

She hates taking her mask up and down for a sip of coffee, she picks her desk on the night shift to avoid cops who don’t cover their mouths, she turns away when she talks to witnesses, she had COVID in November, and on New Year’s Eve, she’s not sure she’s immune.

The pandemic is killing Detective Rene Ballard.

She’s who Harry Bosch used to be before he retired — the rule breaker, the loner, the relentless cop who keeps after the truth until they get it. Author Connelly has come up with a worthwhile female to step into the place Bosch occupied. Bosch is still around in this latest procedural by the acclaimed master, but he’s a supportive sidekick. Ballard needs one, because Connelly has loaded her down with problems, and the pandemic is just one of them.

Connelly works his magic here, with the way he weaves the pandemic into her daily life. It’s just one more stress added to the lack of confidence the public shows toward cops since George Floyd, the burnt-out cops who just shuffle through their days, and, of course the procedures and politics of the L.A. Police Department. On top of everything else, Ballard ends up working two cases at once.

The first case looks like a pair of serial rapists. She’s supposed to pair up with a detective from the sex crimes squad, but the woman’s a slacker. Ballard ends up doing both their jobs. She also picks up a murder that looked like an accident — gunfire on New Year’s Eve — but Ballard establishes that it was a hit. She manages to keep from handing it over to the daytime murder squad until she basically solves the crime, while also figuring out the m.o. of the rapists. To do all this, she works both night and day, and has to call on Bosch for backup. Stretched, sleep-deprived, she makes some questionable, out-of-line decisions that get her both suspended and almost killed. Those scenes are some of the best Connelly has come up with in recent books.

Connelly leaves both Ballard and the reader wondering what will she do in the next installment — keep working for the department, or go to work with Bosch. Either way, the reader wins.

Posted in Detective fiction, Thriller/Suspense | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Life and love in spite of the horrors

Bob Moyer likes mysteries, detective stories and other fiction, but he also has a more serious side.  In his nonfiction-reading mode, he’s often a student of the Holocaust. This book, he says, is very real – and, thank goodness, also a story of survival and even happiness.

INTO THE FOREST. By Rebecca Frankel. St. Martin’s Press. 335 pages. $28.99.

Authenticity. It’s a quality essential to engaging the reader of nonfiction, reassuring us that the author is not only accurate but also empathic with the subject. That comfort is especially important in stories like the one considered here, in which there is little recorded history, no official records and years of neglect—survivors of the Holocaust who fled to the Polish forests. Author Frankel has traced with the help of two survivors the horrific but compelling survival of the Rabinowitz family. Her fealty to their truth is palpable through the surmises and suppositions that are made about their journey from a village in Poland to a city in America.

The author begins with a reunion in New York of Mimi, the mother, with a boy whose life she fortuitously saved during a “selection” in Poland during the Holocaust. The author returns to that meeting as a bookend to the travails of the family close to the end of the book. After that introduction, she draws a vivid sketch of the village, the meeting of the couple, their children and village life. With dispatch she then descends into the fear and dread that arrives with the German occupation—the random selections for killing, the constant intimidation, the cruelty of the soldiers. She vividly portrays the desperation of an entire family hiding in a space carved out of the ground beneath the floor boards of a house, a space with not enough room to stand up in let alone move, all for days. Finally, the couple with their two daughters flee to the primeval forest nearby, where they join hundreds of others.

In this 534-square-mile refuge, the story takes on even more urgency. To the family’s advantage, the father is an expert woodsman. To their disadvantage, everyone knows it, and follows him wherever he goes, as the family has to move from place to place to avoid detection. They live in constant fear of discovery, not just from periodic sweeps of German forces, but also Polish collaborators, untrustworthy Russian troops sent to sabotage the Germans, and Polish partisans. Here the detail not available anywhere else arises in the narrative—the daughter who runs through the woods feeling the freedom of running even in the atmosphere of doom, the daughter who steals food from her family for the promise of a trinket from a fellow refugee, the boy with frozen feet who can’t wear his boots. Frankel fleshes out the two-year timeline with details drawn from the family experience and supported with what little research has been carried out. She creates scenes that make us want to look away but compel us to keep watching, until the Russian forces liberate the forest in 1944.

The rest of the story is almost a fairy tale, as the family moves from the devastation of their village to the coast of Italy and then the United States, where they thrive. There, in New York, Mimi meets the boy she saved, and he meets Rochelle, now Ruth, the oldest daughter. They marry, he becomes a rabbi, and then Frankel’s family rabbi since she was five. That is the link that leads to five years of research, much of it sitting in Ruth’s kitchen talking to her. Their relationship, as well as the one with the other daughter, Tonia (now Toby), is the pillar Frankel built her book on, and the source of the authenticity she brings to her narrative. She has backed that research with eight pages of acknowledgments at the end of the book, all to create, as the book cover says, “A Holocaust Story of Survival, Triumph, and Love.”  The result is as much of a page-turner as you will read this year.

Posted in History, Holocaust, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment