THE SCOTTISH PRISONER

Vintage historical drama from seasoned veteran Gabaldon (An Echo in the Bone, 2009, etc.), another volume in her Lord John series.

Jamie Fraser, the star of the show, gets around, despite being confined to quarters—a nice estate in the Lake District, granted—for having chosen the wrong side during the Jacobite rebellion. Yet, proud Scotsman that he is, how could he have done otherwise? He’s the definition of dashing, though his spirits have been dashed at the death of his beloved wife. For their parts, Lord John and his brother Hal, loyal defenders of the crown, find they have need of Jamie when they set out to chase down a corrupt officer, “determined to bring Major Gerald Siverly to justice.” Siverly is a bad, bad man—think the Jason Isaacs character in the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot—who doesn’t think twice about killing his own men for his nefarious ends; if he had a handlebar mustache, he’d be twirling it. Meanwhile, the Greys, morally ambiguous chaps themselves, have deeper and darker reasons to want to put Siverly down. What more could you expect from a fop who heads an organization called the Society for the Appreciation of the English Beefsteak? A historical drama wouldn’t be worth its salt without a grail, and Gabaldon obliges with a not completely cooked through yarn about an ancient Gaelic poem, a hidden treasure (with clues tucked away, of course, in an abbey) and a romp through the wilds of Ireland and Scotland. Gabaldon’s formula is as reliable as an old Flash Gordon episode: There are the requisite villains, sneaky and dastardly, and good guys who are very good. But the author also has a nice, sometimes bawdy sense of humor—one of those villains earns the sobriquet “that wee arse-wipe,” and some of the adult interactions in the story are very adult indeed. A bonus for longtime fans of the series: Unlike some of the earlier books, where they have been known to wander offstage, Fraser and the Greys are on hand for most of the action.      A not strictly chronological but thoroughly entertaining entry in a franchise that shows no signs of running out of steam.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-33751-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

CODE NAME HÉLÈNE

A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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