Winspear (To Die but Once, 2018, etc.) advances Maisie’s inspiring activities, highlights the bravery of an embattled people...

THE AMERICAN AGENT

An intrepid British investigator continues her war efforts.

September 1940 finds England nightly suffering the horrors of the Blitz. The morning after volunteer ambulance drivers Maisie Dobbs and her best friend, Priscilla Partridge, spend an evening with Catherine Saxon, an American print reporter who hopes to work for Edward R. Murrow, whose radio reports have done so much to change America’s isolationist views, Maisie gets a call from Robbie MacFarlane, whose hush-hush job has required her services before. Acting on the recommendation of American agent Mark Scott, whom Maisie met while spying in Germany, Robbie asks her to investigate a murder—that of Catherine Saxon, whose throat was cut in her own lodgings sometime after her night out with Maisie and Priscilla. Maisie—a widow, nurse, spy, psychologist, and independent enquiry agent—finds Scott strangely uninterested in the case, perhaps because he has his own fish to fry. Maisie’s first look at the body reveals marks of a strangulation attempt, a tiny tattoo of the initials JT, and signs of a prior pregnancy. She interviews Cath’s best friend, Jennifer Barrington, and also the other women living in the house. Cath comes from a wealthy political family. Her father, an isolationist senator who just wanted her to make an advantageous marriage, had virtually cut her off. Jennifer acknowledges that Cath had a child who died while she was reporting in Spain. She can’t name the father, but she does know that Cath has dated an American flying with the RAF and has been visited by other unidentified men. Maisie gets some help from Scott, and their partnership tacks toward romance, but his calculated reserve prevents her from trusting him. After Priscilla is badly burned rescuing several children, Maisie has more time to devote to her investigation, whose disparate clues will lead to a shocking finale.

Winspear (To Die but Once, 2018, etc.) advances Maisie’s inspiring activities, highlights the bravery of an embattled people during the Second World War, and intimates that lessons from that period have yet to be learned.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-243666-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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