A grad student dates a debonair doctor with a dark side in this historical novel.
Just after World War II, Claire Wagner is excited to be in Berkeley, California, on scholarship to get her master’s in social work. She worked hard for her achievements, growing up in a Chicago housing project with a German immigrant mother after her father abandoned the family early on. Claire’s brother, Tom, now based in the Bay Area, sets her up on a blind date with Greg Lombard, whom he met at a local gym. Greg turns out to be a handsome thoracic surgeon in his late 30s. He takes her to fancy restaurants, which she enjoys despite his tendency to order for her. She also likes Greg’s kisses, but his controlling ways soon escalate, and he eventually falsely accuses her of sleeping with a doctor at a nearby hospital where she has an internship. After Claire ends the relationship, Greg stalks her, even following her when she visits New York City, where her mother and her second husband now live. Upon return to California, Claire gets a restraining order, but Greg proves unrelenting. Eventually, a horribly violent encounter changes her life. Overall, this is an accomplished first novel. Memoirist Rene (Becoming Alice, 2008) notes that it’s “inspired by true events,” and it’s infused with authenticity, from the mouthwatering mentions of German cuisine (such as the small sausages known as Würstchen) to the pre-feminist commentary when Claire focuses on her studies and career aspirations instead of romance. Rene also weaves engaging social work cases into the narrative, underscoring Claire’s passion for her profession. Although Greg’s villainy is a bit over-the-top (among other things, he’s routinely abusive to patients and gets hit with a malpractice suit), he’s sadly not outside the realm of possibility.
A touching and sometimes-chilling survivor’s tale.