An old-fashioned and uplifting tale starring a Civil War veteran.

THE CAPTAIN FINDS THE KEY

From the Captain Chronicles series , Vol. 3

A heroic Confederate soldier-turned-minister faces his greatest enemy.

In this conclusion of her trilogy, Durbin (The Captain Seeks the Lost, 2015, etc.) presents the further adventures of Civil War veteran Capt. Harry Richardson, who was captured at Missionary Ridge and spent time as a prisoner of war. He later joined the U.S. Cavalry to fight Native Americans and received a theology degree so that he could embrace the peaceful life of a Georgia preacher in the town of Choestoe. Along the way, he fell in love with and married a strong-spirited woman named Sarah and started a family. But the central conceit of the author’s stories is that violence continues to find a way of touching the captain’s life, and that pattern holds true in this latest volume, matched with the other theme of the series: personal transformation. This applies not only to Harry, but also to this installment’s strong secondary hero, bootlegger-turned-sheriff Michael Gibson, whose narrative and relationship with nurse and midwife Molly Baldwin enliven the broader tale. As in earlier volumes, Durbin keeps the novel’s various plots bubbling at a steady pace, helped by the antagonism between Harry and one of the story’s array of morally conflicted figures, a man named Eldridge Payne. Payne elicits reactions from the protagonist that he’d like to think he’s outgrown. “As a preacher, he knew he should be concerned about Eldridge Payne’s soul,” Harry reflects at one point, “but what he wanted was retribution.” The author has a good ear for dialogue, a fine feel for pacing, and a knack for crafting characters—like Sarah, Harry, and Gibson—who are complex and intriguingly flawed but ultimately heroic. The action in this latest book is kicked off with the murder of a sheriff, a Confederate secret society called the Knights of the Golden Circle, and a secret room whose contents might change the captain’s life forever. Those coming to this volume cold will be confused about the finer details, but longtime readers of the series should be smiling at its conclusion.

An old-fashioned and uplifting tale starring a Civil War veteran.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-973639-22-0

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

THE ORPHAN'S TALE

A Jewish trapeze artist and a Dutch unwed mother bond, after much aerial practice, as the circus comes to Nazi-occupied France.

Ingrid grew up in a Jewish circus family in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1934, she marries Erich, a German officer, and settles in Berlin. In 1942, as the war and Holocaust escalate, Erich is forced to divorce Ingrid. She returns to Darmstadt to find that her family has disappeared. A rival German circus clan, led by its patriarch, Herr Neuhoff, takes her in, giving her a stage name, Astrid, and forged Aryan papers. As she rehearses for the circus’ coming French tour, she once again experiences the freedom of an accomplished aerialist, even as her age, late 20s, catches up with her. The point of view shifts (and will alternate throughout) to Noa, a Dutch teenager thrown out by her formerly loving father when she gets pregnant by a German soldier. After leaving the German unwed mothers’ home where her infant has been taken away, either for the Reich’s Lebensborn adoption program or a worse fate, Noa finds work sweeping a train station. When she comes upon a boxcar full of dead or dying infants, she impulsively grabs one who resembles her own child, later naming him Theo. By chance, Noa and Theo are also rescued by Neuhoff, who offers her refuge in the circus, provided she can learn the trapeze. The tour begins with a stop in Thiers, France. Astrid is still leery of her new apprentice, but Noa catches on quickly and soon must replace Astrid in the act due to the risk that a Nazi spectator might recognize her. Noa falls in love with the mayor’s son, Luc, who Astrid suspects is a collaborator. Astrid’s Russian lover, Peter, a clown, tempts fate with a goose-stepping satire routine, and soon the circus will afford little protection to anybody. The diction seems too contemporary for the period, and the degree of danger the characters are in is more often summarized than demonstrated.

An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1981-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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